It is estimated that 5% of the total population of India play cricket at a competitive level. To put things in perspective, a staggering 6.5 crore people take part in school, college, district, state, and national cricket in the nation.
Being the most popular game in the country by a huge margin, the competition to break into the Indian side increases manifold.
Boasting a bowling average of 23 for Karnataka at the domestic level, Sreenath Aravind would have probably walked into the national side of any other country. However, given the amount of competition to get into the squad in India,
With the number of players vying for a single spot on the side, it becomes that much more important to make the most of that chance.
A poor debut can prove to be extremely costly and unfortunately, that's what happened with the 32 year old from Karnataka.
"It's unlucky for me that I have hardly got a chance. It's not disappointing as I am happy to see my fellow cricketers play for India and grow. For me, I am happy with what I have now and will take it one game at a time. We have a good combination in the Indian team with the right mix of fast bowlers, batsmen, and spinners," said Aravind.
Over the past few years, we have seen a few Indian cricketers make a comeback at the age of 30 plus, or even make a debut at a later age. This year saw the comeback of Yuvraj Singh into the ODI squad after a gap of four years.
Kedar Jadhav, who has become an integral part of the middle order of the Men in Blue made his debut at the age of 29 and has improved over the past two years.
Seeing these cricketers, it might give someone like Aravind hope to make a comeback himself. Currently 32 years old, he feels he has a lot left in him and dreams about making a mark on the international stage.
"Definitely. I will grasp at any chance that is given to me. I'll keep on performing well and waiting for the chance to get back to the side. I am totally happy with what I am now and I can't decide the future. I like to stay in the present and do my work the hard way."
After his exploits at the domestic level and the IPL in 2011, he was all set to make his debut the same year. However, a knee injury prevented him from doing so.
He had to wait for four years to finally get a chance to shine. He made his debut in a T20I against South Africa in 2015. Unfortunately, he was unable to defend 10 runs in the final over and was quite expensive overall.
That was the last chance he got with the Men in Blue and went back to playing domestic cricket ever since.
Despite playing only one game, he learned a lot from his time in the Indian squad - especially from MS Dhoni, who was leading the side back in 2011 and 2015. Aravind heaped praise on the former captain and labeled him as "cool".
"It was a very good learning experience and I have learned a lot from him. He is a patient guy and he handles the situation very calmly. In pressure situations, he comes and tells me to calm down and do my best. Off the field, he is a very cool guy and he is always with the team and talks a lot. It's very nice to be around with him."
KPL, IPL and more
With the Karnataka Premier League coming up, Aravind is gearing up with his new side - the Belgavi Panthers. Ever since the inception of the IPL back in 2008, the number of T20 leagues are on the rise and with each new league, there are a lot of youngsters coming into the fray, thus helping in the further development of Indian cricket.
"These leagues are very important to us. We have a lot of youngsters coming up who play in these leagues as well as a bunch of experienced players, so there is a mix and match of youth and experience. This is what sets it apart from other leagues. Usually, it is U-16, u-19, U-23 etc, but this is one platform where we can get cricketers of all age groups together."
The Belgavi Panthers got the big fish as they roped in Manish Pandey during the auction. However, he was called up by the Indian side for the ODIs and T20Is against Sri Lanka which begin on August 20 and would thus miss a large chunk of the KPL.
His loss in the middle order would probably affect the Panthers but Aravind says that the team is not looking too much into the void left by him and are in fact happy for him.
"I personally feel that Manish getting selected for the Indian team is a good thing. We don't think too much about the loss of a player, but instead, we think of the players who are there at present who can do wonders for our team. We have a bunch og youngsters so we are confident."
With the increasing number of domestic leagues, the competition amongst the players rises and it becomes an extremely daunting task to break into the Indian side. While this might affect certain players, Aravind feels that with the increasing number of leagues, he gets to learn more and increase his experience.
Of course, he also feels that it becomes important to perform in each and every game.
"Every game is a learning experience for us. The more games we play, the more competition there is, and that is healthy competition. We have the Thimmapaiah tournament, KPL, and others which are all extremely competitive. Playing in such leagues gives us the experience to play on the bigger stages and helps us in the long run. These leagues help us grow.
We have to score big and take a lot of wickets in every game. So these tournaments help us in preparing for the Ranji Trophy and from there we have to take it on into India A and India," said Aravind.
One of the most popular players in the KPL, Aravind acts like a mentor, guides the youngsters and helps develop their game. On the other hand, he is at the receiving end of such mentorship when he takes part in the global and glamorous IPL.
Having played both leagues for the past few years, Aravind feels that they are quite similar in terms of the learning experience for a particular cricketer.
"Both the IPL and KPL are not too different apart from the advertising and other things which exist in the IPL. In the IPL, there are a lot of Indian and foreign cricketers who can help the youngsters and impart knowledge to them. In the same way, the senior domestic cricketers in the KPL help the youngsters who are coming into the team."
Having been a part of RCB's set up for almost a decade now, Aravind has played with a whole lot of world-class cricketers such as Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, AB de Villiers, Mitchell Starc just to name a few. Being around such big names, Aravind would have definitely learnt a lot from each one of them over the years which in turn would have helped in further developing his game.
"There are many guys in RCB I can't point out just one person including the coach and support staff. Virat, AB, Gayle Watson, Zaheer, Mitchell Starc, Mills, Adam Milne all of them have been influential and helped us throughout. I can't point out one single player," he concluded.