"I really want to change that perception" - Dega Nischal 2.0 is determined to showcase his all-format prowess

Having shone in whites, Dega Nischal has his eyes set on success across formats (Picture Credits: Instagram/Nischal Dega).
Having shone in whites, Dega Nischal has his eyes set on success across formats (Picture Credits: Instagram/Nischal Dega).

"I just love batting - I just want to keep batting and batting forever and ever, God willing." You could sense a tinge of emotion in Dega Nischal's voice when he utters these words. They come straight out of the heart of a batter who has for long, carried a reputation for playing long innings on a consistent basis.

It all began early, with his father harboring dreams of his son becoming a cricketer and Nischal throwdowns at a tender age.

Nischal's love for batting shouldn't come as a surprise either. Not just because he hails from Karnataka, a land that has the knack for producing top-quality batters time and again, but also because his record through the pathways speaks for itself.

Over a hundred centuries across all age groups in Karnataka cricket, a century in the KSCA first division league as a 15-year old and the Player of the Tournament at the S A Srinivasan Trophy (U25) always pointed towards a stalwart in the making.

A debut in the Karnataka whites was a mere formality and it came in the Ranji Trophy season of 2017-18. A marathon 195 against an Uttar Pradesh attack featuring Ankit Rajpoot, Imtiaz Ahmed, and Saurabh Kumar in just his second first-class fixture reiterated why he belonged at the level.

But like most promising cricketers in the country, Nischal has had to deal with intense competition. A roadblock followed when he was dropped after just three games in the Ranji Trophy 2019-20 season with the wait to break back into the Karnataka XI extending till date.

It hasn't been an easy ride for the 28-year-old top-order batter, as he revisits the journey and the roadmap he has in mind to excel across formats in a candid chat with Sportskeeda.

Withstanding cutthroat competition for spots in Karnataka

Nischal acknowledges the competition he has had to contend with in Karnataka, who have been in the top echelon of domestic cricket teams in the country for decades together.

This, while being frank about the smooth start he made against some quality attacks in his first couple of seasons.

"It has always been tough for me. It’s just that the competition I am up against - I am competing with Mayank Agarwal, Devdutt Padikkal, Ravikumar Samarth, and Abhishek Reddy when he was in Karnataka - has always been tough. It is cutthroat. Even throughout my career, I’ve always worked hard to get my spot. Even before I made my Ranji Trophy debut I had to score 15 junior hundreds to get into the Ranji Trophy team," he said.
"My Ranji career was pretty smooth initially - I made my debut at the age of 23 and I got 195 right in the second game itself. I played 16 games, got four hundreds and three fifties, and actually got runs against very tough oppositions in very tough conditions. At that time there were just Elite and no Plate teams. There were no Elite C teams involved as well", Nischal added.

His exclusion from the playing XI after the fixture against Himachal in December 2019 would have hurt him. Of course, it would have - nobody wants to warm the benches. But what made things worse was the onset of the pandemic depriving Nischal and every other player in the country enough game time in first-class cricket.

But with that came a period of growth and learning too.

"It was going really well. I had a great debut in 2017-18 and in 2018-19 I had an exceptional year where I got three hundreds and three fifties. I just didn’t score in maybe two-three games in 2019 and unfortunately, I was dropped from the team because KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal came back. It has been frustrating after that - it was unfortunate for everyone because COVID-19 happened and we lost the red ball season in 2020 and 2021 because of that," Nischal recalled.
"After that, the 2021-22 Ranji season was for just three games. For my bad luck at that time, both Mayank and Devdutt were available so I couldn’t get a chance to play in the XI. And last year was actually unfortunate because when I thought that I would play the games last year since I had a great league season as well, I don’t know why due to unfortunate circumstances I was not in the team last year. It has obviously been a little hard in the last two years not playing the game but I’ve completely put all those things behind right now and I’m just grateful for everything I have. I’m working hard and just hoping for the best and looking forward to the coming things," he continued.

Did he ever feel he was hard done by and his omission from the playing XI, after four hundreds and three fifties in 16 games, was harsh though?

"It was a harsh call. Maybe I could have played the Mumbai game. But unfortunately at that time, Rahul had come back into the team. He played in the semis or the quarterfinals, I don’t remember. I felt I could have got maybe one or two more chances but it is what it is. In Karnataka cricket the competition is cutthroat. Yeah, I was a bit surprised at that time but it is what it is," Nischal stated.

"I'm going to give everything to the game" - Nischal on his current form and the road ahead

Runs in the first division league of the state automatically put the limelight on a batter looking to break into the main squad. Or in Nischal's case, break back into the main squad.

A rejuvenated right-handed batter pulverized bowling attacks for fun en route to 450 runs in seven KSCA first-division league fixtures not too long ago, finishing as the third-highest run-getter.

He duly carried that run of form into a practice fixture against a quality Mumbai bowling attack, stroking his way to another hundred.

What has clicked during this period, though? Nischal puts it down to the time spent at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru.

"I’ve always got runs in the KSCA first division league. This year I think I’ll attribute my present form to the sessions I spent at the NCA this year. This year I spent a lot of time in the NCA because all the India bowlers are bowling there and they called me for batting sessions. I regularly practice at the NCA," he said.
"The first division was very good for me - I got 450 runs in seven games. I was unlucky to not be the highest scorer because two of my games where I was batting on 75 and 50 got washed out due to rain. It was a good season for me and we recently played a practice match against Mumbai. I got a hundred against them, against a good bowling lineup like Dhawal Kulkarni, Mohit Awasthi, Tanush Kotian, etc. So it has been quite good so hopefully I can continue," Nischal averred.

One often sees a correlation between a positive mindset and a consistent run of form. Nischal vouches for the same with his case at a time when he doesn't want to leave any stone unturned in giving it everything.

"I am in a great headspace right now because I am working really hard towards my game. I am clearly working on my white-ball game as well. My thought process is such that I’m going to give everything to the game. Obviously, I’ve been a great professional all my life but I am in a better headspace because of the things I have experienced in the last two to three years," Nischal stated.
"The experiences of not being in the XI in the last two years for the Karnataka Ranji Trophy team. I realized a lot of things in life - I realized I am grateful for all the little things in life right now. I am just grateful for everything I have right now and working really hard and just going there, enjoying my cricket, and just hoping for the best," he went on to add.

Having piled up consistent runs against the red ball, Nischal has his eyes firmly set on a spot in the Karnataka playing XI for the next edition of the Ranji Trophy which will commence in January 2024.

"It is amazing to play for Karnataka. Every cricketer’s dream is to play for Karnataka and especially for me after doing so well for the Karnataka senior Ranji Trophy team, that feeling of performing and doing well for the team is something else. I experienced that in the first three years. Obviously, for the past two years, I’ve been on the bench. This year things are going really well and I’m really looking forward to making a comeback into the XI provided everything goes well. Right now I’m just hoping for the best," he explained.

But it doesn't stop with that. If anything, there are a few more important objectives to tick off in the build-up to that.

"Everyone's perception is that I'm just a red ball player" - Nischal opens up on his all-format ambitions

While he was a key member of Karnataka's red ball setup for three seasons since his debut, Nischal is yet to make his List-A or T20 debut. Although he has been in and around the 50-over team, that cap has eluded him so far.

The ability to bat out time and grind out bowling attacks is something that has stood out with him. But Dega Nischal 2.0 doesn't want to be pigeonholed into a one-format player alone.

"That is very important to me because I want to be an all-format player now. I think the mindset gradually changed when I moved to Vultures CC - I started playing a lot more white-ball cricket, the YSR T20, and 50 overs. I started playing more of the important knockout games, semifinals, and finals. Because of that, I got a hundred against Swastic Union CC in the 2021 season. And I was part of the white-ball team for the last two years. I was part of the Karnataka Vijay Hazare Trophy team in 2020-21 and in 2021-22 also. So that’s a step. I was part of the team but didn’t get to play in the XI," Nischal stated.
"It was okay because at that time all the seniors were available and I guess it’s fine. But this year I’m really looking forward to playing all formats because all these years red-ball was my priority," he continued.

The way the game has evolved has played a role in Nischal's changed approach towards this.

"My career graph was such that since I had a great start to my first-class cricket, I always wanted to do well in the Ranji Trophy. After my second year when I got 600 runs, if you understand my career graph, my plan was to get big runs in the Ranji Trophy, make it to the Duleep Trophy, and gradually from there after establishing myself in red-ball cricket I will focus on white ball," he averred.
"Now, it’s high time I just can’t choose just one format. So I’ve started playing all three formats and this year I’ve particularly changed my game according to that. I did really well at the Bengaluru Blasters trials and I’ve been picked for them. I’m really looking forward to doing well in the Maharaja Trophy. Everyone’s perception is that I’m just a red-ball player till now but now I really want to change that perception and I want to be an all-format player. The way the game is going, even in Test match cricket everyone wants players to play at a strike-rate of 70 and 80. So I’m going to try to adapt to that," Nischal stated.

So what has he tried to do differently to bolster his power-hitting?

"Just immediately after the first division league, I've got a one-month break. I’m particularly working on my bat swing. Mainly bat swing - if you observe my batting I hold my bat really down for red ball cricket. And I don’t lift my bat much. I just go to the line of the ball and it’s more of footwork. Whereas now I’m just focusing on complete bat swing and with minimal footwork, trying to get the complete swing of the bat and using more of the hip," he elaborated.

A big second half of August beckons to that end, with the state-run Maharaja Trophy - known before as the Karnataka Premier League - going on floors on the 13th of the month in Bengaluru.

Nischal will turn out in the colors of defending champions Bengaluru Blasters and could well slot in alongside the experienced Mayank Agarwal at the top.

"The Maharaja Trophy is the key tournament to be picked for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy or the Vijay Hazare Trophy. I’ve had a good white-ball career to be honest since I’ve done well in the YSR matches. In the Maharaja Trophy also I have two to three fifties. But it was always a 50 off 40 balls or a strike rate of maybe 130 and 140 but never had an impactful innings. This year my aim is to create an impact in the Maharaja Trophy," Nischal stated.

He also reserved special praise for Agarwal, who he has always looked up to in Karnataka cricketing circles.

"As you know he’s a great professional. He has been a big brother to me in Karnataka cricket. He’s the cricketer I respect the most in Karnataka cricket, to be honest. He’s a role model for all the youngsters. Even when I broke into the Karnataka team I looked up to him and he has always made me feel comfortable. Anything related to batting I go to him. Not just batting but even life because he’s such a great role model for all the cricketers," he said.
"He’s a person with a great work ethic. The way he has come up right now scoring heaps and heaps of runs in all the domestic games, it’s an inspiration for me and many other hardworking cricketers to emulate him. My highest respect for Mayank," Nischal concluded.

From a dogged batter determined to bat long against the red ball, Nischal has added more strings to his bow - something he will be keen to show over the next few weeks and beyond. The roadblock in the last few years might have been tough, but it has spurred him onto potentially bigger success in his career.

The seeds have been sown. And he's eager to harvest the fruit along the journey.

Dega Nischal is represented by the talent management company Square The One Sports.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar