Anshuman Rath: Associate cricket is unable to sustain a career for more than 5-6 years

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02 Jun 2020 | 07:17 AM
authorPramod Ananth

Anshuman Rath: Associate cricket is unable to sustain a career for more than 5-6 years

Former Hong Kong captain remains hopeful of forging a successful career in India

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A versatile cricketer with an abundance of talent and one with a bright future, former Hong Kong captain Anshuman Rath has already had a memorable career all at the age of 22. Having born and brought up in Hong Kong to Indian parents, Rath also explored the option of playing County cricket for Middlesex, but given that Hong Kong is an associate member, he was denied a visa despite featuring for them at their academy. 

His move to India further goes on to show his hunger and desire to play cricket at the highest level and is currently in the fray to play for two-time Ranji Trophy champions Vidarbha in the domestic circuit. In a chat with Cricket.com, the stylish southpaw talks at length about his stint in Hong Kong, his excitement of getting a chance to play in the Ranji Trophy, training with Amol Mazumdar, his Indian Premier League (IPL) aspirations and much more.

How have you adjusted in India so far? What have you been doing during the lockdown? A bit of training, and maybe a bit of Netflix?

Absolutely nothing going on at the moment. Just trying to weather the storm and see what happens. I was in Mumbai for training with Amol Mazumdar and everything started to go into a lockdown. I was going to go to the UK for a couple of weeks to meet some friends. Then I was going to come back to Hong Kong for a couple of weeks and then come back to India when all the summer camps for the Ranji season next year started. But given everything, I just got stuck in Mumbai mid-March. I haven’t been able to move since. Burning through Netflix. I watched them all to be honest. I’m watching Ozark at the moment, pretty good. I’ve watched Money Heist, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad – you name it, I’ve watched it. 

How has your experience of training with Amol Mazumdar been?

It’s been amazing. His domestic record speaks for itself. As a player he knows a lot about the game, playing with some of the greats ever. Me and him make a good combination. I’m a firm believer of the player-coach relationship being very important. In order to learn, you’ll have to fully give yourself to the coach, be vulnerable with him, look forward to learn. We’ve good a very good relationship. He likes it when a player gives it his all and I certainly do that. So, I think his coaching style is amazing, he really is a great coach and his record speaks for itself. It’s been an amazing ride so far. Hopefully, I’ll be coached by him even in the future. 

VCA has registered you as a local player, how excited are you get a chance to play for Vidarbha in the domestic circuit?

Very excited. The record that Vidarbha has speaks for itself. To win Ranji back-to-back, unless you are Mumbai, that’s a very difficult thing to do. I think they’ve got a very strong youth program. They won the CK Nayudu Trophy this year and played club season over there and saw some very talented cricketers. I think they’ve ticked a lot of boxes from what I’ve seen and the facilities are fantastic. So, I can’t wait to represent them.

Have you spoken to any of the players from the team yet? Maybe a word with the captain or with the coach?

Unfortunately, not, because when I did move there was when all the Ranji stuff, the 50-over stuff and the T20 stuff was going on. I haven’t spoken to any senior heads in the team. I’ve spoken to Prashant Vaidya, who has been instrumental in getting me over here from an admin point of view. From a cricket point of view, I haven’t spoken to anyone because they’ve been busy with their cricket. But I’m sure in due time I will and I’m very much looking forward to doing so.

Any players from India or for that matter cricketers from around the world you look up to and why?

The one player that I’ve always looked up to is Kumar Sangakkara. That was a fortunate chance of doing that (Being Sangakkara’s captain at the Hong Kong T20 Blitz). 

That’s something that I’ll take to my grave. He’s definitely someone who is my idol. I’ve met a lot of cricketers in my short career so far. He is the one person who has stood out for me. The way he is on and off the field is amazing and inspirational to everyone. His record itself speaks and he is a man of action.

Your primary role is that of a batsman. But you've done quite a bit of bowling and also have kept wickets occasionally. Are you honing those skills as well?

I’m trying to. Once I left the UK, I just stopped bowling completely. That’s something I’d like to explore. With all these skills, it’s about exploring. I wasn’t supposed to ‘keep in (Global T20) Canada and I hadn’t ‘kept for six years before that. But I had the opportunity to do so and I did alright. Just by exploring, I added another string to my bow. It’s just a question of what works and I’m happy to explore all avenues. Yes, it is something that I am addressing. I did ‘keep in a few games in Nagpur, I have bowled in the nets and stuff. I am just trying to see what works. I’m still 22, so I have a lot of time to master one other skill. Whatever helps me in the long run definitely is something that I’ll take seriously. 

Going back to your stint at Hong Kong, you've accomplished so many things there, including leading the side at such a young age. What prompted you to leave Hong Kong and forge a career in India? Also, how did team-mates and coaches react when you broke the news to them?

When I was younger, I was going through the UK system. I was involved in the Middlesex Academy, Middlesex second team. I was making my way through the ranks over there and I was playing for Hong Kong at the same time. You look at Mark Chapman for example. He was essentially someone who I looked up to when he was going through….he was in the exact same situation as me, but with New Zealand. He made his way through Auckland, the youth stuff and all and then went on to make his first-team debut and then went on from there. Unfortunately, I had visa problems which did not allow me to play in the UK. After many months, essentially year-and-a-half of deliberating, going back and forth with the ECB as well as speaking to Middlesex, speaking with the immigration lawyers nothing came to fold unfortunately. Ever since that happened I always knew that I needed to find a base in which I can play my cricket. 

The sad truth is that associate cricket is not able to sustain a career for more than 5-6 years. The ones who carry on for more than that struggle – whether it’s financially or mentally – because associate cricket is incredibly cut-throat. I believe that if you put half the international Test cricketers into associate cricket, in terms of skills they’ll be fine, but in terms of mental capacity, they’d lose it. 

The pressure is immense. In terms of all of that, I knew I needed to find another avenue, if I wanted to pursue a career in cricket. That opportunity presented itself in India and I have to take it with both hands. My coaches were very understanding. They knew that I wanted to play elsewhere, have a long-term career and really give it a go rather than always looking over my shoulder and saying what if. I think I’ve achieved pretty much everything in associate cricket and for me that chapter is closed. Going another 10-12 years, playing associate cricket would have been meaningless for me. I wanted to push myself and really achieve. My coaches were very understanding. I have been filling them in as to what’s happening and they’ve been very supportive. They know what international and Test cricket can give me, associate cricket can never give me. They understood the drive and hunger in me and they realized my appetite was too big for associate cricket.

You spoke about Mark Chapman earlier on how he moved from Hong Kong and has now represented New Zealand. Now you too have moved on. Do you see more players leaving Hong Kong to pursue their careers elsewhere in the coming years?

Financial constraint is one thing in associate cricket, not just in Hong Kong. But I do see the potential of others moving. A couple of young kids who have worked their ways through the Hong Kong youth system have now moved to New Zealand to start qualifying there. I think it will happen more and more. The sad reality is that Hong Kong cricket does not produce enough to keep people interested. It’s such a sad thing, we were one of the best associate sides at one time – back in 2015, 2016. I would say we were the best associate sides along with Scotland and the Dutch. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to keep our players due to numerous amount of reasons. I think it will continue to happen. It has happened to the likes of Namibian players, you look at the South African players who go off to the UK. 

Even in South African cricket there isn’t enough incentive. How can there be incentive in Hong Kong cricket. I believe it’ll happen more and more. I believe there’s not a damn thing Hong Kong cricket can do about it because there’s not enough money, there’s not enough funding, there’s not enough matches. There’s a lot of insecurity and in cricket, you need players to focus on the cricket. There’s too many things to worry about in cricket already without having to worry about all the other things. So, if you have that to worry about on top of it, then it’s a recipe for disaster and it is very hard to find your full game. 

Tell me about the match against India in the Asia Cup. Was there a moment that you thought while batting with Nizakat Khan that you can actually pull this off?

There were several moments. It was good that we got a beating by Pakistan, that’s what took the pressure off a little bit in a weird way. We had nothing to lose now. I did get a little bit of scrutiny for winning the toss and bowling first in 45 degrees. But I always thought that the wicket would get better given the dew. I also thought that our strength is bowling. We’re not a team that can put a total up. Our strength is our bowling and we proved that restricting India to 280 when they should’ve got 340-350 I thought was an incredible achievement. We gave away only 47 runs in the last 10 overs and against India’s firepower, I thought that was amazing. Especially since we slugged away for 40-45 overs in the heat. 

The momentum was definitely with us going in with the bat. Me and the coach fired up the boys saying, “Boys, you don’t realise that this game isn’t out of our hands.” Obviously, we were just saying that to motivate them, but then when me and Nizakat went out to bat, our tactic, sending Nizakat to open – because he has been batting at four for us in the entire qualifiers. 

A year or two years prior to that, he was batting at four, but we said we’d always be one-down in the first 5-10 overs. We said, let’s send Nizakat up. If we are losing a wicket – because Nizakat was not doing particularly well at four anyway – we just said let’s just send him opening and if he clicks, then fantastic, if he doesn’t click, we are losing wickets anyway, it’s fine. It’s not sacrificial or anything. It was just on a whim that we decided to send him opening. He does open for us in T20s. So we thought why not give him a T20 role in 50-over cricket because that can really hurt teams and the rest is history. The way he batted, it took a massive amount of pressure off of me. I was able to take my time and sort of structure the chase while he just went crazy at the other end. That first 60 runs after nine overs or whatever it was, I just looked at him and said, “Bro, let’s see how far we can stretch this.” It only started becoming a reality at around the 150-run mark. Before that it was more of a motivational thing. Even after the 100-run mark I was like there’s another 180 runs to get at run-a-ball, that’s still a bit tough. But I just said, let’s just see how far we can stretch this. 

Around the 150-run mark we both were feeling so comfortable, we just thought nothing would get us out because they were running out of ideas, Rohit Sharma was running out of bowlers to turn to. 

I thought we can really pull this off. If we get over 200 runs as a partnership, I think we’ve won this game because we’ve got 10 wickets in hand, run-a-ball to go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. 

Tell me about your experience in the Canada Global T20. Must have been a terrific experience for a young cricketer like you to go shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Faf du Plessis and other cricketers.

It was great. Words cannot describe how amazing it was. You sort of had to be there to understand, it was that level of learning. It’s not so much what they do on the field, it’s more about how they go about their business off the field. The discipline, the way they are able to switch off their minds, how they go about their training – all these little things you pick up by playing with them. What I’ve learnt from those tournaments have been invaluable, they’ve been priceless. I’m a very firm believer of experience is the best learning tool and I’ve been very fortunate enough to play in a fair amount of franchise cricket and learn from some of the best in the world. I’m very honoured, very humbled and very privileged to rub shoulders with some of them and hopefully I can do that more in the future. 

Now you'll have a crack at playing in the IPL. Is that something that excites you? Do you have any favourite team?

Yes, the IPL definitely excites me, it excites the whole world. It’s a fantastic tournament, it’s a great platform for young cricketers and they certainly get their opportunity to shine. Given the chance, I’m definitely very much looking forward to part-taking. In terms of which franchise to play for – anyone that picks me. I think they’re all great. When I was younger I was a big, big fan of MS (Dhoni). Now there are a lot of questions and speculations on whether he’ll continue or not. Watching (Virat) Kohli in action would be something that truly not a lot of people can say. So, I think given a chance I’d love to play for RCB. But if I’m being frank, I’d be happy to play for anyone who picks me. I don’t think I have a luxury of choice. 

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