Ishan Porel has a lot to look forward to in the new Indian domestic season. Nicknamed the "Chandannagar Express" due to his roots in the West Bengal town, the lanky pacer knows that a string of good performances in the Ranji Trophy and the Indian Premier League (IPL) will push him closer to his maiden India call-up.
Porel is delighted with the fact that the Ranji Trophy will resume on Thursday after a two-year hiatus imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. And why shouldn’t he? After all, the previous edition of India’s premier first-class tournament saw him blossom into Bengal’s pace spearhead from being Ashok Dinda’s understudy.
Along with his fellow speed merchants Akash Deep and Mukesh Kumar, Porel was instrumental in guiding Bengal to their 14th Ranji final, which they lost to Saurashtra on the basis of a first-innings deficit.
The 2018 U-19 World Cup-winner has been a regular feature in the India A team ever since and recently played two unofficial Tests in South Africa. He now aims to add more pace to his already impressive accuracy in a bid to take his game to the next level.
Known for his penchant to bowl long spells, Porel will be key to Bengal’s fortunes in their new Ranji campaign where they’ll vie with Baroda, Hyderabad and Chandigarh in Elite Group B for a quarter-final berth. The Abhimanyu Easwaran-led side will play all their group stage matches in Cuttack.
Porel’s tryst with the IPL hasn’t been as rewarding as his brief first-class career. Although praised by former captain KL Rahul and head coach Anil Kumble during his previous stint with Punjab Kings (PBKS), Porel mostly warmed the bench except for making a solitary appearance against the Rajasthan Royals (RR) in Dubai last year.
The 23-year-old was once again snapped up by PBKS for ₹25 lakh at the recently concluded IPL 2022 mega auction. Hopeful of getting more playing time, Porel will rub shoulders with South African speedster Kagiso Rabada in his new stint with the Mohali-based franchise.
Speaking exclusively to Sportskeeda on the eve of Bengal’s Ranji Trophy season opener against Baroda, Porel opened up on his evolution as a pacer, his ambition to play Test cricket and his “new weapon” for the upcoming edition of the IPL.
He also played a rapid fire round with us. Here are the excerpts.
Q: You were in such a good rhythm in the previous edition of the Ranji Trophy, but then the tournament was suspended for an entire season due to COVID-19. What does the resumption of the Ranji Trophy mean for you as an emerging fast bowler?
Porel: I personally feel good about it because I love to play the longer format. I’ve been waiting for the Ranji Trophy to restart since last year. In the previous edition, we played as a group and reached the final. This time around, we want to go a step further and make the other teams feel bad. You have to stand up and take notice of Bengal when we play in the Ranji Trophy. As a group, we’ve been waiting for this moment.
Q: Until a few years ago, Bengal’s pace unit was spearheaded by Ashok Dinda who didn’t get enough support from the other end. The current crop of Bengal pacers love to hunt in packs, don’t they?
Porel: Obviously! We don’t want to leave any stone unturned on the ground and give our best in the Ranji Trophy. If you continue to do well, you’ll get wickets in clusters in this format. The game has become such that no batter in the country has the patience to play over 200 deliveries and score a hundred. Everyone tries to score quickly nowadays. As a pace unit, if we can contain them and not concede easy runs we’ll take many wickets.
Q: The group stage of the Ranji Trophy will comprise fewer matches this season due to the shorter window. How do you view this format and how has the team been preparing for the tournament?
Porel: We have some plans and we’ll try to execute them on the field. We’ll try to secure outright wins in at least two of our three group matches. I think that will help us reach the quarter-finals. We’ve been preparing quite well for the last two to three months. Before coming to Bhubaneswar, we played two four-day matches. We’re very excited for our first match against Baroda on February 17.
Q: Let’s talk about the recently concluded IPL 2022 mega auction. You didn’t watch the 2020 auction because you were returning to the team hotel after playing a first-class match against Kerala. What were you doing on Saturday?
Porel: I watched the auction on Saturday because we were in quarantine and there was nothing else to do throughout the day except a few exercises and [spending time on] the PlayStation. To be honest, I was quite tense and excited before my turn came. Eventually, Punjab Kings reposed their faith in me and picked me up, so I’m very happy.
Q: Are you a bit upset about not fetching a higher bid unlike some of your teammates from the 2018 U-19 World Cup-winning squad?
Porel: It would’ve been better had I been bought at a higher price but nonetheless, it’s still good as I wasn’t expecting anything. I didn’t play a lot of white-ball cricket last season. I played only two T20 matches [in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy] and then headed to South Africa to play the unofficial Test series for India A. I’m pretty hopeful that I’ll get more playing time this season and I’ll prove that I can do well in T20s too.
Q: How excited are you to share the dressing room with Kagiso Rabada at Punjab Kings?
Porel: It will be great to share the dressing room with Rabada and I’m looking forward to it. He’s one of the best fast bowlers in world cricket at the moment and I can’t wait to pick his brains on various facets of pace bowling. That said, I don’t want to take any unnecessary pressure. You put yourself under pressure only when you start thinking that you’ll surely get some matches. And if your expectations are not fulfilled, you tend to sulk over it. I don’t want that to happen. I’ll just concentrate on the process and try to contribute to the team’s cause in whatever way possible.
Q: Tell me honestly. On Saturday morning, were you praying for Sunrisers Hyderabad to pick you at the auction? That would have given you a chance to train under your idol Dale Steyn, who is the new SRH bowling coach.
Porel: Not really; I wasn’t too worried about the auction on Saturday morning. But it would’ve been great if I had been picked by Sunrisers as Dale Steyn is there. That doesn’t mean I’m less happy to be at Punjab Kings. Let’s see what happens in the future [smiles].
Q: You share a great rapport with current Indian head coach Rahul Dravid. Has he given you any specific targets that you need to achieve in order to break into the senior national team?
Porel: Umm…I don’t know what’s going to happen, but hopefully I can take a lot of wickets in the upcoming season. I’ve become more mature now and I’ve learnt a lot about my bowling and myself. I know what I’m capable of doing and what I can deliver. I played a couple of unofficial Tests in South Africa late last year, so that experience is going to help me as well. I’m only focused on the first match of our Ranji Trophy campaign right now.
Q: How challenging was it to get into the first-class mode in South Africa after not playing red-ball cricket for nearly two years?
Porel: I couldn’t play the first unofficial Test because I got a niggle. I played the second match, where I picked up six wickets [3/49 and 3/33]. I love red-ball cricket. I’ll never get tired even if you ask me to bowl long spells with the red ball because that's something I crave.
Q: Do you like playing red-ball cricket more than white-ball cricket?
Porel: No, I enjoy myself thoroughly in all three formats. The thing is, a Test match gives you greater flexibility to strategize and plan for each and every opposition batter. Obviously, the red ball moves more than the white ball, so anybody in the country would love to bowl with it. My ambition is to play Test cricket for India, that’s my ultimate dream.
Q: Have you added any new variations to your bowling, keeping the IPL and the shorter formats in mind?
Porel: I have good control over the ball, so I’m currently focusing on increasing my pace. You need to possess a lot of variations in T20 cricket. You should be able to bowl yorkers with both the old ball and the new ball. I’m working on a new variation, but I don’t want to disclose it right now. You’ll see it during the IPL, so let it be a surprise weapon for now [smiles].
Q. You’ve become the spearhead of the Bengal bowling attack at such a young age. Do you want to see yourself in a leadership role for Bengal going forward?
Porel: I’m not thinking about it right now. I just want to contribute to my team’s success with my bowling for the time being. I don’t think it will help me in the long run if I start thinking about the Bengal captaincy from now. However, if the C.A.B [Cricket Association of Bengal] gives me a leadership role in the future, I’ll be more than happy to accept that.
Q: I spoke to a former Bengal captain recently. He said that reaching the knockouts of national tournaments is not enough for Bengal and that the players still lack self-belief. Do you agree with his opinion?
Porel: If you look at the current Bengal team, it’s still growing. There are a lot of new players in this side who like to play an aggressive brand of cricket. We’re heading in the right direction and I’m hopeful that we’ll do well in this year’s Ranji Trophy.
If you look at the previous edition of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, you’ll understand that we were really unlucky to lose the quarter-final against Karnataka in the super over. Again, in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, we lost only one match, but it was against Pondicherry, the weakest opponent in the group. Winning trophies is obviously important.
I can tell you that we’re a bunch of hungry individuals who’re working very hard to bring laurels to Bengal cricket. If we win the Ranji Trophy this year, I do believe that we can win many more trophies in a row.
RAPID FIRE ROUND
Q: Your nickname?
Q: Your favorite food?
Porel: I love to cook for myself. I’m good at cooking chicken, mutton and paneer dishes.
Q: Are you superstitious?
Porel: Not anymore, but I was superstitious earlier as I carried some special towels in my bag. There are certain marks on those towels, and I like to use them during matches [laughs].
Q: Shubman Gill or Prithvi Shaw – who do you think has evolved more as a batter since the 2018 U-19 World Cup?
Porel: Both of them are excellent cricketers with different batting styles. Although they are two different cricketers, if you ask me, I would say Shubman [has evolved more].
Q: East Bengal or Mohun Bagan – which is your favorite football club?
Porel: I’m a ghoti, so my family traditionally supports Mohun Bagan. But since I play for the East Bengal cricket team, my heart is currently with East Bengal. The club has supported me a lot over the past five years.
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Q. Should Ishan Porel regularly feature for PBKS in IPL 2022?
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