When did you start playing cricket?
I think when I was eight or nine years of age. I used to play a lot of tennis ball cricket before I began playing with the hard leather ball. I was very famous in and outside my colony as a tennis ball cricketer. I was very much in demand, too!
Does tennis ball cricket help in some way in improving one's game?
It helps you play your shots on the backfoot. The tennis ball bounces a lot, particularly on the cement wicket. We used to play tennis ball cricket on cement wickets on which the ball would come very fast. In fact, tennis ball cricket itself is very fast and action-packed. It helps you improve your batting, bowling and fielding. Tennis ball cricket helps in the game played with leather ball, too. Of course, I soon started playing leather ball cricket as well.
When did things actually begin happening in your career in terms of being noticed and nurtured properly?
I was playing against Swami Vivekananda School in the final of a club tourney. My performance enabled my team to win that game by a good margin. Interestingly, the opposite side's coach, Raju Lad, was so impressed by my performance that he asked me to join Swami Vivekananda School. I was very happy by his gesture of appreciation. Unfortunately, I wasn't in a position to pay the astronomical fees charged by that institute. But he was keen to have me in Swami Vivekananda School by all means. He probably convinced the authorities of my ability as a cricketer, if not as a student, and I eventually ended up studying and playing for Swami Vivekananda School. Mr Yogesh Patel, the director of the school, arranged a scholarship for my studies.
Were you principally a batsman or a bowler in those days?
When I started playing cricket, I was mainly an off-spinner who could also bat and score some useful runs. In Swami Vivekananda School, too, I played as a specialist bowler for one year.
How did you emerge as a strong batsman who could also bowl when required?
It was my coach, Raju Lad, who advised me to concentrate more on my batting. He was always impressed by my batting and he told me the importance of being an all-rounder in modern cricket. In one crucial match, actually the final of a tournament, he sent me straightaway as an opener just for a change. And I justified his confidence in me by scoring a hundred. For the next three years, I regularly opened the innings for my school.
How do you see yourself today in terms of your cricketing skills?
Now I'm more a batsman who has a role to play as a bowler. I'm a batting all-rounder. I'm only a part-time bowler now. But I've begun to concentrate more on my bowling, too, particularly after many senior players praised it. They told me to take my bowling more seriously and make the most of it. Their compliments have given me confidence and I've been working on my bowling to make it more effective and sharper.
Unlike many youngsters, you didn't have to struggle to enter the Mumbai side at different times in your already eventful career. Or did you have to fight for a place?
Well, not really. I think God has been very kind to me. I was 13 when I began representing Mumbai in Under-14 tournaments. It was the big platform I actually needed. Then I played for Mumbai in Under-17 competitions and also got selected for training at National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bangalore.
How was the experience staying at and playing for the NCA?
It was a wonderful experience. There're many other young cricketers like me. The coaching and training by experts were very good and rewarding. In fact, I had a good time playing for the NCA. I scored a hundred against Air India and hit another versus Indian Airlines in front of Dilip Vengsarkar and Pravin Amre, who was then the chairman of national junior selection committee.
You were selected for bigger matches before you made your Ranji Trophy debut for Mumbai, weren't you?
Yes, my performance while at the NCA directly got me into the Mumbai team for the Irani Cup, which was played at Mohali. Unfortunately, I couldn't go to Mohali because of some personal reasons. Then the Australians visited India and I was selected in the 15-member Mumbai squad to play against them. But I couldn't make the final eleven. I felt very encouraged by such recognition at such a young age. At last I played my maiden Ranji Trophy match for Mumbai against Bengal earlier this year.
Who is your idol or all-time favourite cricketer?
Sachin Tendulkar. I've grown up following his cricket and admiring him. As said earlier, I started playing cricket when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I always wanted to meet him at that point of time. But it never happened. He was as huge a star then as he is now. There was tremendous craze about him. I was always an avid fan of his - much before even I touched a cricket ball or bat
When did you first see him in action?
In the Ranji Trophy match between Mumbai and Baroda at the MIG ground some four or five years back. It was dream come true for me. Literally.
How do you feel now when you are rubbing shoulders with him - playing for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy, Twenty20, etc?
It's obviously a great feeling playing with such a big man. Batting with him and performing with him is also different. He helped me a lot whenever we were together at the crease for Mumbai in the interstate Twenty20 cricket tournament in Ahmedabad. I felt very encouraged listening to him.
Did he say something special?
Yes. It was very different from what you always here from coaches. I mean what he said was practical, based on his own vast experience. He also told me when to take singles and twos and also when and how to accelerate, and so on and so forth. Believe me, it was very, very different from what we juniors hear from others almost every day.
Did he say something before the Twenty20 competition, too?
Yes. He gave me some vital tips about batting during the Ranji Trophy final this year. Since then I haven't missed any opportunity to talk with him whenever he is available.
Reportage: Haresh Pandya
Design: Imran Shaikh
Photograph: Reuben NV
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