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The Rediff Special/Harini Rana
'Pakistan will be a great place to play in'
March 03, 2004
Ramesh Powar comes into the Indian team in place of injured off-spinner Harbhajan Singh. The Mumbai lad's off-breaks have fetched him 111 wickets in 39 first-class games. He has scored 1,622 runs at an average of 37.72, with four centuries and nine half-centuries. He has a double of 1,000 runs and 100 wickets in first class cricket to his credit.
Indeed, the 25-year-old player's selection for the tour of Pakistan comes as no surprise. Last season (2002-2003), he single-handedly won Ranji Trophy matches for Mumbai. If his 20 wickets were useful enough, even more crucial were the runs he contributed. Batting low down the order, he ended up as the number two scorer for Mumbai in the national tournament, with 418 runs, at an average of more than 46. More importantly, the bulk of those runs came with his team in trouble.
Powar is the second player from Mumbai's Shardashram school, which was coached by the renowned Ramakant Achrekar, to make his debut in Pakistan. Sachin Tendulkar was the first.
He received news about his selection in Dharamshala, where he was playing for West Zone in the Duleep Trophy match against North Zone.
"I was watching the news on Aaj Tak and heard about my selection," Powar told rediff.com on the phone from Dharamshala. "I was really happy. You cannot react immediately when such a big thing happens in your life. I cannot explain how I felt at that time; it cannot be put in words. I called my sister and spoke to her first. It's really a nice, proud and honoured feeling when you are on the verge of wearing the Indian cap.
"It's a great feeling getting into the team for such an important and tough tour. I am honoured to be a part of the Indian team.
"I think it's my hard work, my performance in domestic cricket, my consistency, my sister's prayers and brother's support that got me where I am today.
"Pakistan will be a great place to play in. It is just a coincidence that even Sachin made his debut in Pakistan. He is also from Shardashram [but the English medium school] and we have trained under Ramakant Achrekar sir.
"I know the wickets are going to be quite similar in Pakistan as in India. I will bowl the same line and length that I bowl in India and will not experiment too much. I will play my natural game and be consistent. The Pakistan team are excellent players of spin. I take that as a positive sign. It's going to be a very tough tour. After all, it's India in Pakistan. It will also be a game of mental toughness. Who is stronger mentally on the field will also make a difference.
"I will get to bowl against some really strong guys. If I get wickets there it will be a very good achievement. It's going to be a good challenge for me and I am looking forward to prove myself.
"I will bowl a little slower. I want the batsmen to drive me through the covers. The change came about in the camp in Bangalore when Sachin suggested that I bowl slower and fuller. Earlier, I used to pitch it on a good length. When I tried this, I got help from the wickets in Bangalore while practicing. That boosted my confidence.
"At this point, I have only one thing in mind when I go to Pakistan: to perform well and be consistent; that's very important.
"I am not bothered about the security; that is not my concern. Now I want to do well for my team when I am given a chance."
Will he be successful playing his natural game against the pace of Shoaib Akhtar and Mohammad Sami?
Chandrakant Pandit (coach of Mumbai's Ranji Trophy team):
I was expecting Powar to make it to the team for Pakistan. It's a good break for him. I hope he will do justice to his talent at the international level as well.
He played a key role in the Mumbai team and won some matches single-handedly. He comes handy in situations where the team needs him to bat well and has performed well in crunch situations.
He is a very talented player who likes to take on new challenges. He has improved amazingly with his batting. This year he paid extra attention to his bowling. I think that's the reason he got the berth in the Indian side. He has developed good variation and worked hard on his fitness and fielding. Fielding was regarded as his negative point; people thought he was not a good fielder, but he worked really hard to balance all areas in his game.
Getting dropped from the Mumbai team in a one-day match against Delhi made him reflect a lot. We just wanted to keep him out for one game and make him realise that he was not bowling well and throwing away his wicket. He took that in the right spirit and learnt a lot from his career at the domestic level. Today he will keep that in mind always -- that he was dropped as he did not perform well -- and will always give his best.
After his selection, though his cell phone was not working, he called me from Nilesh Kulkarni's cell. He was very happy about his selection. I spoke to him before he left for the Duleep Trophy.
Pakistan is one side where batsman can handle spin bowling very well, just like India. It will not be an easy tour for him to prove himself. He has to bowl his normal line and length; he should not try too many things and, most importantly, should play his natural game.
He needs to keep his cool and perform according to match situations.
Ramakant Achrekar (Powar's coach in school):
I am very happy for him, though the selection has come late. But it's good that it has happened. He is a good player, very dedicated and has worked hard in all three departments, batting, bowling and fielding, of the game. He selected cricket as his profession. It is the all-round ability that got him into the side.
It's now his turn to prove himself; he has to justify his talent at the international level. He has to bowl well, as the Pakistan players are good against spin bowling. He has to play according to his potential and match situations.
Swapnil Hazare (Powar's Mumbai team-mate):
He is really good and hardworking. I am very happy for him.
He is capable of handling the mental pressure in Pakistan. He has gone through a lot of ups and downs in his life. He lost his mother at a young age; then his father. At present he does not have a job. He was not in the probables' list for the Mumbai team for three or four years, but slogged and played really well in local games and made it back. That's quite amazing. Today, he is part of the Indian contingent to Pakistan.
He has great temperament and is calm while bowling. One of his biggest weakness is facing fast bowlers.
Geeta Vilankar (Powar's sister):
It is nice to hear that he has made it to the team. He has been struggling and slogging really hard for the last two years to make it to the Indian team.
It was Kiran, his elder brother, who informed me about his selection. Later, Ramesh called from Dharamshala.
He has been playing good cricket these last two years. He performs best under pressure and in crunch situations. He never trembles when the team needs him.
He is playing against Pakistan in Pakistan, but that should not affect him. He is mentally tough and his natural game is that of hitting the ball hard. He will go out there and play the natural game that he plays for Mumbai. It does not matter against whom he is playing.
He is mentally quite tough. A few years ago he performed really well but was still not included in the playing eleven. He reacted very badly and decided to leave the Mumbai team. He wrote a letter asking permission to play for the Police team and got permission. He has a tough mind. If he sets his mind on something he will make it happen.
He was not taken for the Australian tour, but he always had his eye on making it to the Indian team. He used to say, 'I have to work hard. If I perform and be consistent there is no reason why the selectors will not take me in the team.'
He was very close to our mother. Her death made him stronger, mentally. Our relationship is like that of mother and child. After mother's death I took care of him.
He always says 'When I come back to the pavilion I want to be proud of what I do. I do not want to feel ashamed of myself.'
Aavishkar Salvi (Powar's Mumbai team-mate):
I am really proud of him. In the recent past he has played really well and won some matches single-handedly for Mumbai. These were in crunch situations. He performs well under pressure; that is his big plus point.
We were playing a match against Andhra Pradesh. Mumbai were 120 for 6 and we ended up scoring 400-plus. He scored a 100 in that match on a seaming wicket. That proves his mental toughness.
It's a great achievement for him. I hope he proves himself in Pakistan.
Powar started his career as a batsman who could also bowl. In his debut season [1999-2000], he scored a half-century against Bengal. Then the impression changed. He became known as a bowler who could also bat. Last season he was again regarded as a batsman who could bowl. It is this quality that has seen him make the Indian team.
Mentally tough at home, but will he perform in the pressure cooker conditions of international cricket? Can he handle the pressure of playing in Pakistan?
Photograph: Deepak Salvi