The cauldron of the Indian Premier League is where dreams are made of. For a young cricketer in India, who could only dream of playing for the national team, it is where he learns, grows and takes the plunge. It shapes them for the future or even falls them to a new nadir. But rarely has it been without occurrences.
For Abhishek Raut, the reticent young cricketer from Odisha, the chance couldn’t have come at a more opportune time. Raut, before making his IPL debut in 2009, was already an India U-19 player but had already led Maharashtra to a Cooch Behar Trophy title while being the highest run-scorer in the country. On top of that, he had already made it to the Mumbai senior squad, rubbing shoulders with the who and who of Indian cricket.
But for Raut, the journey was more than worth it. On his debut game against Kolkata Knight Riders in Cape Town, Raut scored a last over 18 to guide Rajasthan Royals to a memorable victory. It was the start of the mini love affair that saw the Jajpur-born player play many memorable innings but more importantly, it provided the kind of impetus that he needed in his career.
Still active as a first-class player, Abhishek Raut opens up about his IPL journey and beyond with Cricket.com.
Read it in his own words.
It's always been a big opportunity and a pleasure to play in the IPL as it's one of the biggest platforms to play in India. If you do really well on that big circuit, it becomes very easy for you to get that recognition for the Indian team. I was really fortunate to play on that big platform in the IPL for Rajasthan Royals.
And the best memory is from when I saw Shane Warne for the first time; it was unbelievable. I won't say it was like a dream come true because I never dreamt of meeting Warne in my career or something like that. He's a stalwart, a legend, who is no more— that’s really sad. But it was a really, really exciting part for me that I met Warne at that very young age (22) and I never thought of meeting such a big legend— especially someone who is not from India. When I saw him for the first time in South Africa, it was mesmerising to think I was literally playing with one of the legends— a renowned player in world cricket, with whom everyone wants to play and a lot of batsmen don't want to face.
He was that kind of a personality. When I saw him in the dressing room, I started interacting with him. I started discussing lots of things, learnt a lot of leg-spin tricks from him, a lot of batting aspects, on how to approach a cricket game—how to approach a good batsman. It was one of the best experiences, especially when I played with Warne.
When I got selected for the Rajasthan Royals, all these things—the selection process, etc— were done in India. I gave my selection trial in Mumbai at MLG Club. All the scouts and selectors were really impressed with me, and they said, “Abhishek, we are interested in you. We want to take you to Rajasthan Royals’ squad. But before that, we have to go to Jaipur for a final trial over there. Shane Warne is planning to come over there.”
I was really happy with that call. And I was ready to go and give my trials again at Jaipur in front of Shane Warne. But unfortunately, when I went to Rajasthan, he didn't come over there. Everyone said that he will be directly meeting me in South Africa. Luckily, I got the IPL contract (Royals).
Newlands was a beautiful town, a beautiful place. After a couple of days, we had a group meeting with our assistant coach, Darren Berry. He was Australian and had a lovely personality as well and he is like a father figure to me. I'm really close to him. And he came to us and said, “There is good news for you. Shane Warne is going to meet you in the afternoon at the conference hall today.”
That was the time I got goosebumps and went, “Oh, Shane Warne is finally here!” As I entered the conference room, Shane was standing right in front of a nice whiteboard. And it was like, “Whoa, that is Shane Warne. The king of spin is here, right in front of me.” So that was my first reaction. I was speechless; I was completely blocked. I was like, “What should I do now?” I settled myself a little bit for a while. And then he got introduced by everyone and eventually, he came towards me and said, “Okay, you're Abhishek Raut; I know you.”
And I was like, “Oh, you know me?” He was like, “Yeah, Chuck (Darren Barry) told me about you” in his big Australian accent. And it was like, “Okay, yeah, Shane Warne knows me.” I said, “Thank you for making my dream come true that Shane Warne, the legend, knows who Abhishek Raut is all about,” That was my first interaction.
Then when I got to play for the Royals, I was batting around six and seven because we had Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf Pathan—all these guys. In one of the games, we were chasing around 154 but then we had a collapse. We lost three wickets in just a matter of 20 or 30 runs. After the second wicket, Shane asked me to just get ready and go in if the next wicket fell. And I was ready.
Suddenly, he asked me to bat at number five and I went in. 2009 was Deccan Chargers’ season; they became champions. Pragyan Ojha, RP Singh, Fidel Edwards, etc. They were at the top of their performance that season. That was a kind of challenge for me because ultimately, those guys are already Test-level players. And that was just my first season and those guys who are bowling against me.
It was like, “Okay, Abhishek, that's the opportunity. You have to do it.” So I started batting. I started grooming, grafting my innings, pushing for twos and threes, and getting an odd boundary. My point was to settle at the pitch. If I settle at the pitch, I can accelerate after that.
But my strength is that I can rotate strike, and I can occupy the crease for a longer period. That's my strength. And I did the same thing. Ultimately, after a few overs, Yusuf came in. He got a quick-fire knock—10 to 12 balls, he got 25 or 30 odd runs. That was a very short innings, but that helped me a lot to build my innings further. Ultimately, I carried on with my innings, taking it to the last over. I pushed myself, and backed myself because I knew I could accelerate at the later stage. Shane Warne had a message for me during the break saying, “Abhishek, you have to stay there till the end. And I'm sure you can finish the innings; you have to just stay over there.”
Fair enough, if such a big player is placing such a confident stake in me, I have to do that. So I stood there. And I took some good chances against Pragyan Ojha and RP Singh. Venugopal came in for a short change, and that was my over. So I charged against him, and got a couple of quick boundaries in that over. And ultimately, in the last over, took the game away from them. So, that was one of my special innings.
It's basically my nature in batting. I am more of a grafter with aggression. I can build my innings with a lot of patience as well. I can accelerate later with my batting style. That's how I play; I am that kind of a batsman. The best part of playing with Shane Warne was, because he is such a down-to-earth person, he used to give so much confidence to all the young players to go and perform—just go and express yourself.
As you know what he did with Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan. That first year, 2008, no one expected Rajasthan Royals to win the IPL, with youngsters like Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan. Now you can see where Jadeja and Yusuf Pathan are. It was only because of Shane Warne, who helped them develop as a player. And that is exactly the same thing he did with me.
When I was playing my first game, he came out to me and said, “Abhi, don't worry about anything. Just go and express yourself. You are good enough to play at this level. That's why we have picked you. If you are not good enough, we wouldn't have picked you in this league. You are good enough. That's why we picked you in the first game, for this crucial game against KKR. Just go and express yourselves.”
That was the confidence he gave to me. That over, I just went there and expressed myself. That's it. I knew I can hit sixes. I just wanted to go and express myself. That’s it. And I was fortunate enough that it clicked and I got the result.
Hence, the first and last person who I consider my idol will be Shane Warne, for sure. He's my idol. I really wanted to play like him. The point is that it's not only about the skill part. He's supremely excellent and talented. But the best part of him is his mindset—how he approaches the game, how he prepares himself. Even if a lot of people in the mix suggest that he is a misbehaved person or not at all disciplined, that is completely a hoax. Just rumours, because I have spent so much time with him.
He is one of the most-disciplined people I've ever seen. After taking 700-plus Test wickets, and becoming a legend, he was still so punctual. When he was playing IPL, he had already retired from Test cricket. So even after achieving so many things, he was still so disciplined.
The first experience—what I saw about him—was from a practice session we had. We had all had a nice party before that. And we all were out of the party at 11 o'clock. And we were out. But Shane Warne was still there in the party till like five o'clock in the morning— something like that. There was a group message that, at eight o'clock, the bus would leave for the practice session. But the most interesting part starts here.
He was at the party till five o'clock in the morning, but when we boarded the bus at eight o'clock, and we went on the ground, he was the first person on the ground. And Chuck told me, “Abishek, do you know what? He was in the bar till five o'clock in the morning. And at seven o'clock, he was on the ground to see exactly what the players were supposed to do in the practice session. He was the first person on the ground. And that is the thing I learnt from him. After achieving so many things and being retired—he doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone else—he's so punctual and so disciplined on the field. Right from the first day, he would always be the first person to be on the ground, and always the last person to get off the field.
There is a little bit of an unfortunate story as well as far as domestic career is concerned. When I was playing in the IPL, I was playing for Mumbai on the domestic circuit. But it was unfortunate because when I was in my peak form, Mumbai didn't give me that many opportunities to play. I was playing one-dayers and T20s. But I was always, sometimes in and sometimes out. Never played Ranji Trophy. I was in the Ranji Trophy squad for three to four years, and I just played two games for Mumbai. So it was that kind of a time for me. I was playing IPL, but at the same time, if I played lots of good first-class cricket, my stats and career would be completely different.
Because after starting the first-class season in 2005, till now I have played just 26 first-class games. So you can just make out that I have been playing for 18 years. When I was in Mumbai… I played for Mumbai for like 10 years, and they gave me an opportunity for two games. So that was one of my sad parts. But still, that was a confidence that I can still push. So, I had decided that it is the right time to go and play in Odisha, to migrate back to my home state to get that opportunity to get to play that first-class level more and more consistently.
Even right now, after 18 years, whatever my age is, it is just a number; I don't bother about that. My goal is to stay fit and keep pushing myself; I have never ever thought that this is the time I have to stop my cricket. Every day, I wake up in the morning, I go and do my routine and leave everything to destiny.
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