Wanted my father to see me playing cricket on TV, says Vidarbha's Ranji Trophy final hero Rajneesh Gurbani
The quest to learn and improve is what differentiates achievers from the rest of the lot and Rajneesh Gurbani, the spearhead of Vidarbha’s bowling attack, flaunts that attitude with élan. I began our conversation asking him the preferred language (for the interview) and Rajneesh didn’t hesitate for once to say, “English mein try karunga. Mujhe seekhna hai,” (I’ll try in English as I want to learn).
The candid admission speaks volumes about his character. He doesn’t shy away from talking about his shortcomings and how he’s determined to overcome them. The 24-year-old became only the second bowler to take a hat-trick in the Ranji Trophy finals and he can’t stop gushing about it. He tells me that his body was dehydrated. The doctor had said that he can’t play the final but Chandrakant Pandit, the coach, wanted him to since the conditions were tailor-made for his bowling style.
Gurbani was given glucose through saline just fifteen minutes before the game started. The strength and resolve he possesses is conspicuous. Delivering at the highest stage in a high-voltage match is no mean feat but there’s no air of arrogance around this chirpy and humble chap.
Tell us a little about your journey. How and where did you start?
I studied at Mumbai’s St. Mary’s College and had been actively involved in various sports. I played Table Tennis, Badminton, and Football along with athletics. I was the captain of the school’s football team. Until 10th standard, I was confused which sport to choose. I remember my father telling me that I was becoming a jack of all trades and master of none. He insisted me on picking one and mastering it.
Though I was playing so many sports, I wasn’t excelling at any and that was the disappointment. After a while, I decided to concentrate on cricket and got selected in the U-13 Mumbai team. Since then, there has been no looking back. Later, I shifted to Nagpur but since I was playing for Mumbai, I didn’t have access to VCA.
An opportunity landed my way when VCA was looking for fresh faces. There was a camp conducted by Subroto Banerjee sir where there were around 500 non-VCA fast bowlers. I performed well and got shortlisted amongst the top 10 and eventually made to the top 7 who got a chance to be a part of VCA.
What was your inspiration to take up cricket amongst all the other sports?
My father has a big role to play in this. Since childhood, I have enjoyed watching Test cricket with him. His passion and love towards the game rubbed off on me. As a child, I started dreaming of my father watching me play cricket on TV someday and I used to enjoy playing cricket the most.
How does it feel to be the only second bowler to take a hat-trick in the Ranji final?
It is more than a dream come true. You can’t dream of taking a hat-trick in such a crucial game.
While you were bowling the hat-trick ball, what was going on in your mind?
Honestly, I wanted to get the opponents out as quickly as I could. Since I wasn’t well, I wanted to go back to the pavilion as soon as possible and rest. I was given another bottle of glucose after the match. I wasn’t even thinking about the hat-trick as I had taken 2 wickets on the last two balls of my previous over. I wasn’t aware of it until someone from the crowd pointed out.
All the three balls of your hat-trick were in-dippers. Is it your most lethal weapon?
It has worked for me as I am naturally an outswinger so batsmen weren't expecting me to change that. And, it’s generally difficult to play the ball coming into the stumps. A new batsman is unsettled and nervous so I capitalized on it.
Which performance is closer to your heart – the 12-wicket haul in the semi-final against Karnataka or the hat-trick in the final against Delhi?
Both were very different situations. The last wicket in the semi-final when Karnataka needed just 5 runs was the most crucial one. After that, we felt agar yeh match nikaal saktey hain to final koi badi baat nahi hai (If we can win this, final isn’t a big task).
In today’s times, a bowler who can bat has a certain advantage over the one who cannot. So, have you been working on your batting as well?
Yes, definitely. The last 50-70 runs contributed by tailenders can turn the game around.
How was it to play under Faiz Fazal? What difference did the presence of a seasoned domestic legend, Wasim Jaffer, in the dressing room made to the team?
He is the best captain in the world. He is very friendly and very supportive. I became Wasim bhai’s fan after my first interaction with him. He advises the bowlers from a batsman’s perspective which is very helpful in understanding the batman’s mindset while bowling. His presence and contribution have been immensely valuable.
Which fast bowlers have inspired you?
Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar. I’m lucky to have played with Umesh bhai in the Ranji Trophy.
How was your experience playing with your idol – Umesh Yadav? In the semi-final, people were expecting him to turn the game around for Vidarbha but you got a 12w haul. How does that feel?
His presence was relaxing. I knew I had someone to fall back upon. It was because of him that I was not under any pressure to perform and that’s what did the trick for me. Being relaxed made me concentrate on my game better.
What is the road ahead for Rajneesh Gurbani?
I cannot decide what will happen. Jo hona hai woh hoga. I am concentrating on my game and improving each day.
What do you feel is Vidarbha’s chances of winning the Irani Trophy?
As a player, we hope to win the tournament. We are going to give it all. We have an upper hand since our team is going to be unchanged and we know each other quite well.
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