More trophies mean more experience under your belt, says Ravikumar Samarth
It is the KPL 2017 trophy launch and captains of six of the seven teams are busy with video interviews and photoshoot commitments. R Vinay Kumar is seated in the front row that's flush with chief guests and legends alike, the most noticeable of which is VB Chandrasekhar. They have the best view at the trophy sitting pretty at the centre of the stage two feet away from them.
Sitting behind the who's who of the KSCA are the captains, with Balachandra Akhil, the 39-year-old veteran, being a prominent presence among them not just because he's the oldest to lead a side in the league but also because he's still around, going through the grills despite never having tasted the India colours.
Ravikumar Samarth, though, disappears from the scene as soon as the captains are done posing with the newly-launched trophy. One could easily be mistaken for considering him the captain of one of the teams. I had to go through the media managers and the PR team managing the KPL to get a glimpse and the opportunity for a chat.
As I later found out, he had left the hall and had to be brought back because the captain of the Bengaluru Blasters -- the newest KPL franchise -- had some commitments to fulfill. I requested for a few minutes of his time after he was done with shy appearances in front of the camera and quoting punchlines for his franchise's branding formalities.
I had spoken with him earlier as well, immediately after he was picked for the 'A' tour to South Africa. When I remind him of the conversation, he recognizes me immediately. A senior journalist had told me that the bonds you build with a cricketer in his early days generally last a lifetime. It was pleasing, hence, to know that the 24-year-old remembered the interview.
Twin fifties in South Africa had certainly made the team owners take notice of the talent -- as the price tag of INR 5.9 lakh explains -- and the responsibility of captaincy came as an added bonus. However, captaincy at 24, especially after having just made his initial strides towards the 'A' side could have been overwhelming.
"I have led the state side earlier as well, so it's not something new for me. I have not led the senior team but I've led the Colts XI. So I don't think captaincy would bring any added pressure because my teammates at Bengaluru Blasters are good friends of mine. We get along really well so I don't think this will be a burden," Samarth says, shrugging off any possibility of the captaincy bringing pressure on his mind.
Led by Samarth or not -- Samarth led Bengaluru in one game before leaving for Duleep Trophy duty -- his team finished last on the points table, losing all six of their matches. Once Samarth departed for Lucknow to play for India Green in the Duleep Trophy opener against India Red on September 7, Shishir Bhavane was given the captaincy of the side. Bhavane was retained as captain even after Samarth returned and turned out for his KPL franchise for two more games.
Returns of 0, 1, and 5 didn't augur well for Samarth either, as it was quite evident that the transition from first-class cricket to T20 cricket and back had perhaps affected his form in the shorter format.
In the space of nine days, from September 2 to September 11, Samarth played two days of T20 cricket and four days of first-class cricket. While the first-class returns were noteworthy -- a second-innings 50 against India Red in the Duleep opener -- the need to switch from one format to the other in such a short turnaround time was understandably tough.
But that certainly didn't have an impact on his game in four-day cricket. The maiden India 'A' campaign in South Africa fetched him two half-centuries in the series-defining second unofficial Test.
"To be a part of the winning side is always great. You learn a lot when you're a part of winning teams. The more trophies you have under your belt the more experience you have," Samarth reflects on his India 'A' sojourn.
Things didn't start off in the best of manners for him, though. He was run out first-ball in the first innings of the first four-day game in Pretoria.
"It started off really bad. I got run out off the first ball in the first innings. Apart from that, the tournament went really well for me. In the first match, I got a start in the second innings but I couldn't convert it. Had I converted it, it would probably have saved the game," he recalls.
The clarity of thought was praiseworthy. That he backed himself to save the game for his team was probably a bit too mature for his age.
After being bundled out for 120 in reply to South Africa A's 346, India were set an improbable 447 for victory in the second innings. Samarth played 45 balls and stayed at the crease for 70 minutes, but just when it looked that he would forge a fightback with his teenage pal and captain Karun Nair, another run-out ended his second essay.
But what the Samarth-Nair duo failed to achieve in the first match, they did in the second. Chasing 224 for victory in Potchefstroom, Nair and Samarth added 74 for the third wicket and laid the platform for a smooth run chase.
"Apart from that, the tournament was fantastic. In the second match, I shared a crucial partnership with Karun (Nair). That was really good. I would have liked to convert one of those fifties into hundreds. Else, everything was really good," Samarth adds.
South Africa was Samarth's first assignment with the 'A' side. While he was a permanent figure in Karnataka's Ranji Trophy eleven, playing in conditions that were erstwhile alien to him would have been a challenge.
When I had asked him about the kind of challenge that he thought South African conditions would present, before his departure to South Africa, his answer exhibited subtle nonchalance.
"I really don’t know how (the conditions) in South Africa are going to be, I would only get to know once I get there. I don’t want to comment on such things because I don’t believe in thinking about those aspects. It is about remaining calm and being blank as much as possible," he had said then.
Remaining 'blank' certainly did help the cricketer come up trumps in a series wherein other India batsmen didn't do particularly well. Was a there a difference that he felt between playing at home and there in Africa?
"The concentration (when you're playing) there (was the difference). You should be on the dot each and every over, each and every ball. They don't let you relax. Every other bowler that comes in, comes hard at you. There's no weak link in the team," he explains.
"The first wicket there was good bounce and carry, but to our surprise, there was some spin for us as well.".
It is good in a sense to see that Samarth has had a taste of what international cricket feels like in that he's faced an attack that comes hard and has no weak links, by his own admission. If and when he graduates to the senior men's team, this could be what he would be required to deal with.
He has had a string of fifties in the last two months but no three-digit scores. Innings of 77 and 55 in South Africa were followed up with 59 vs India Red and 54 vs New Zealand A in the first game of the ongoing two-match unofficial Test series.
Samarth has retained his place since being called up to the 'A' squad and it is his consistency that has kept him at the top of the order. However, a three-figure score while playing with India 'A' is something he would most certainly try to add to his repertoire. It would be those hundreds that would probably push his case to the next level in the quest of making a break into the senior eleven, which is already flush full of opening batsmen.