Ravi Bishnoi is unique, he is determined and now, three years after the big struggle, he is successful. Having been brought up in the arid terrain of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, the lack of academies in his home town was one of the biggest obstacles for his growth in cricket.
Unlike other aspiring cricketers, Bishnoi didn’t have the luxury of climbing through the ranks of school-level. The lack of recognition for cricketing culture potentially could have ended his career before he pursued it but the drive and determination in him never gave up.
Taking the onus upon himself, Bishnoi with a bunch of his friends helped build a cricket academy in the neighborhood, taking up bulk of the muscle work needed for the setup.
“There isn’t a big sports or cricket culture here (West Rajasthan). It is just the passion and dedication of building an academy ourselves that has helped me reach this stage,” starts off Bishnoi in an exclusive interview with KXIP.in.
Being the son of headmaster, Bishnoi’s dreams of becoming a cricketer had several roadblocks, including his board exam in front of him. It all started in 2014, when Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) were banned by BCCI, where he had one session to prove his worth when he was still U-16. Up until 2019, the leg-spinner’s struggling tale with age-group cricket was frustrating.
After being rejected at U-16 and U-19 level (twice), there was the ultimatum in front of him, the board exams, which in the country holds of utmost importance. However, the dilemma that was in front of him was a torrid one, he either had to write his exams or attend the trials with Rajasthan Royals in 2018.
Remember he wasn’t yet anywhere near Rajasthan’s A-team, so the opportunity of a trial with an IPL franchise was already an upgrade but the catch was, it was just a trial. It wasn’t a guarantee unlike education. It wasn’t even a guarantee that he would have more than a few balls or overs to prove that he could bowl.
"In the night, they were playing scenario games and they asked me to field at third man. The first ball that came to me, I missed it and it went for four. So some people were saying 'who the hell is this guy?' but [Royals fielding coach Dishant] Yagnik sir told me, 'don't worry; you're here to be a bowler, not a fielder'," Bishnoi told ESPNCricinfo, back in 2020.
Break-through, not in the first spell though
In a country like India, cricket is a double-edged sword, it definitely does give you thrills but at the same time, it doesn’t offer you security, like other jobs do. Hell, it doesn’t even give you an equal opportunity to make it to the top. But Bishnoi’s perseverance, something that he had built up during his youth, stopped him from quitting.
A debut for Rajasthan was followed up with a debut for Indian U-19 side, where he wasn’t even considered before his show for the state side. But the security was still a big if? If his performance caught any attention? If any franchise noted his skills? It all started with ifs and ended with buts but ironically, in the auction for the 2020 IPL season, Ravi Bishnoi drove a big bidding war.
His price, not overnight but within minutes of the first bid from Mumbai Indians rose in multitudes. 20 lakhs soon turned 2 crore but it didn’t deter Bishnoi from the goal: representing India. And he did not just represent India in the 2020 U-19 World Cup but he picked up four wickets for just five runs against Japan. 17 wickets in the entire tournament, at 10.64 and conceding runs at just 3.48, Bishnoi wasn’t an overnight sensation but he did attain quick fame.
Can he do it in the Indian Premier League?
The level-up from age-group cricket to IPL is unrelenting and punishing. One mistake, you are out, truth be told: franchises aren’t there just for the development but there for titles. No franchise has won a title for being academies that have brought about talents and won’t in the near future as well.
So, under the tutelage of India’s greatest leg-spinner Anil Kumble, Bishnoi’s dream had a supporting figure. Unlike several leg-spinners, the 21-year-old’s biggest weapon wasn’t the stock delivery leg-spin but rather, googly. While other spinners use it as a variation, the Jodhpur spinners heavily relies on the variation as his stock-delivery, with all of his nine wickets in the ongoing IPL season being from googlies.
Quite literally, Bishnoi has followed the footsteps of Kumble, including bowling at a similar pace like the Indian legend. In his first IPL season, the results were there: 12 wickets at an average of 31.3 and an economy rate of 7.4 in a team that struggled big time. The most fascinating part about his debut season, an unflinching attitude against the top players.
Eoin Morgan, David Warner, Jonny Bairstow, Rishabh Pant were all just the starting pieces of his wicket puzzle. The more the season grew, the more he developed his game. Unique to leg-spinners, his numbers against left-handers was outstanding, notably because of his reliance on the googly but his match-ups against right-handers not quite favourable, one of the smaller drawbacks from his debut season.
2021 IPL brings about Bishnoi’s 2.0 googlies
While it was quite literally a shock that the franchise didn’t pick him much in the first half, their performance in the spin department took a hit, with only three wickets, at 91.7 and an economy rate of 8.6. However, with him in the setup, he shot up to 13 wickets prior to the clash against Mumbai, at 21.1 and ER of 6.5.
Barring Mohammed Shami, no other bowler in the last two seasons in a Punjab outfit has picked up more wickets in his first spell than the 21-year-old spinner, who has claimed 11 victims, one short of Shami’s 12.
Unlike the usual leg-spinner, Bishnoi’s strength from his debut season was against left-handers, one of the foes for the leg-spinners. Against left-handers, Bishnoi has picked up seven wickets in the 2020 season, averaging 14.1 at an economy rate of 7.1 This season, however, the challenge for him was confronting the devil: right-handers.
Seven of his nine wickets this season has come against right-handed batsman, against whom he now averages 13.3 at 5.8 RPO, with 40.2% of the deliveries being dot. Incredibly his biggest strength, the googly has yielded him all of his nine wickets, at an average of 13 and a strike-rate of 12.4. While very rarely has been employed in the powerplay, KL Rahul’s decision to hand the ball resulted in immediate reward.
Two balls, two wickets. Wickets of Rohit Sharma and Suryakumar Yadav. Much-needed wickets for Punjab Kings. "My plan to Suryakumar Yadav was to bowl googly upfront, it is tough to counter googly when you have just come to the crease. I have worked hard on my googly in the nets, with my coach and Suryakumar's wicket was nice because of how he was deceived with that delivery," said a jubilant Bishnoi in the post-match press conference.
But what if he had never built the academy, what if he had given up on cricket and instead focused on his education and what if he didn’t have a deadly googly to his disposal? Would the Ravi still rise? Bishnoi was a stand-out performer in Punjab’s loss against Mumbai but while the sun was setting down fast in Abu Dhabi, the rise of Ravi was evident in the Middle East.