Two years ago at the Under-19 World Cup, Ishan Porel, just 4.1 overs into his spell during India’s tournament opener, went down clutching his heel. He immediately left the field with a massive cloud hanging around the rest of his tournament.
Returning home midway through the tournament would have been an easy solution, but Porel was not ready to give up. Not when he had worked so hard to represent India on the world stage. Through sheer determination and training, Porel recovered in two weeks’ time. He went on to bowl a match-winning spell of 4/17 against Pakistan in the semi-final and then returned two wickets in the final against Australia as India lifted the title.
Porel’s graph has been on the up since. From being a part of the India A side and recently helping Bengal reach the final of the Ranji Trophy, the 21-year-old has been a revelation. He recently sat down with cricket.com in a candid Instagram Live session where he opened up on his career aspirations on Team India ambitions, on Virat Kohli, on his crazy celebrations and much more.
Firstly, how is the lockdown? What have you been upto over the last few days and how do you spend your time at home?
It has been a testing time, not just for me but for everybody, but we have no other option. Basically my go-to partner is PS4 at home, I generally spend more time on that. Sometimes, I am helping my family with some activities at home. Obviously, I have chosen a time in the day to do some training on my terrace. I have to keep up with my training as well.
It must get a bit frustrating, isn't it, especially for a fast bowler like yourself to not go through a set routine every day. What are the alternate ways you are training and making sure the lockdown does not affect your fitness in any way?
The same problem everyone around me is facing, it's not just me. But we can't help that, can we? But I am trying my best to keep myself fit. Our Bengal trainer Sanjib Das has sent me a programme and also our Kings XI Punjab trainer has sent a programme. I am trying to follow those things. Look, I don't have a gym in my house, so I can't do all the gym stuff and I can't go out to run. So, the things that I have in my house, with those I am trying to implement my training.
We need to send some videos of our training session through the WhatsApp groups to our coaches. There is a group of fast bowlers that is maintained by our coach and our trainer and we have to send our training videos on that group at the end of the day.
How did fast bowling happen and who was your idol growing up?
When I started my cricketing career, I joined a coaching center near my house. I wanted to be a batsman but my coaches told me, after seeing my height and physique, I should be a fast bowler and it will help me in the long run. From there on I started bowling fast. Firstly, I was a wrong-footed bowler like Sohail Tanvir but my coach rectified those things. I followed Brett Lee and Dale Steyn growing up.
You have always had the swing in your armoury but one thing we have seen over the last two years is that your pace has increased. Has that been a conscious decision and what kind of training has gone into that?
Frankly speaking, from last year when our coach Arun Lal came in, he has generally looked after our training. He says if you train a lot it will eventually help you in your long run as a fast bowler. From the last couple of years, we as a bunch - the Bengal boys, are looking into that aspect as much as the cricketing skills. We are putting the extra yard into training, going to the gym, being there on the ground and running those two extra laps that needs to be done and will eventually help you. I guess my pace has increased after that.
It has been quite an eventful two years or so for you. From playing a key role in India winning the U19 World Cup in 2018 to being a part of the India A setup and rubbing shoulders with the best. How would you describe your journey?
I want to thank all my coaches who have been part of this journey till now. Because frankly speaking, there have been a couple of coaches or more than that, those who have been a part of my journey. I want to thank all of them. I have shared a dressing room with the Bengal greats as well. Someone like Manoj Tiwary, Ashok Dinda, Wriddhiman Saha, (Mohammed) Shami bhai have also been around. I have learned that you need to be mentally prepared because at that level if you are mentally strong and if you can handle tough situations properly and if you execute your plans, which would help you at that level. If you are not mentally strong in a situation where you need to deliver, then you won't deliver ultimately. It's a matter of one ball! In one ball you need six runs, even if you have to hit that six as a batsman, or take one wicket in the final over, you need to be mentally strong. That's what I have learned in the last two years.
You have had to face a lot of injuries in your short career already. It must get frustrating having to make a comeback after every injury. How do you motivate yourself during those tough times?
I go through the videos of Dale Steyn and Brett Lee because those two are my inspirations. I have learned a lot from them and think of them as my idols. I watch a lot of videos because as a fast bowler you will suffer injuries eventually. If you want to bowl fast, you will have injuries. There have been spells where I have gone for runs but then came back and have taken wickets in another spell. I watch those videos and try to motivate myself. I have also read autobiographies of Rafael Nadal and Yuvraj Singh.
Is there anyone in particular you talk to when you are down? Anyone who you always go back to, either your family or a coach?
My childhood coach Bibash Das. When I am down, not getting wickets or going through a good patch, I always talk to him and he is always there for me 24*7. He always supports me and backs me. He has watched me grow since my childhood days and he knows what I am capable of. So he is always there for me.
If we rewind to the 2018 U19 World Cup, you got injured in the very first match of the tournament. It must have felt the end of the world for you at the time but you managed to bounce back and take some important wickets. Talk us through that?
Look, I have to thank all my coaches, Rahul (Dravid) Sir especially, my team-mates, my physio and trainer for that, because they always had my back at all times. They used to give their own examples of how they came back after setbacks. Honestly, if those people would have not been there at that point of time, I probably would not have been able to make a comeback and take wickets against Pakistan and Australia. My room-mate Riyan Parag Das, in particular, backed me a lot during that time. He had seen me cry, he had seen me falling down. He is one who I have kept in touch, even now. Those days were especially tough. No one demotivated me at any stage. Every single day people came up and told me 'don't worry at all, you will play, everything will be sorted out and you will play the semi-final and final.'
Tell us something about Rahul Dravid. He has been an inspiration for so many budding cricketers. How was it like being with him in the dressing room?
Rahul Sir is the great wall of Indian cricket. Spending time with him was an absolute pleasure and I generally have always gone up to him and wanted to learn from him. Things like how he keeps himself calm in tense moments. I have learned a lot from him both with the India U19 side and the A side. One thing that he always says is that just be composed and take the right decisions at the right moment of time. I have tried to keep in touch with him and whenever I ask him something, he always turns up and gives me valuable advice.
You have been a revelation for Bengal this year consistently taking wickets. How was your experience of playing the Ranji Trophy and what did you learn the most this season be it from the players or your coach?
We have bowled as a bowling unit all through this season. Every bowler in the Bengal unit contributed to some extent in some way or the other. We were never dependent upon any one particular bowler at any time. I think that was the key reason for our team's success. One thing that has worked most for me, is the additional training. That has been the sole reason behind me bowling fast and being more accurate every time I go out to bowl. It has helped me in between the matches as well. My coaches have always emphasised the importance of training. Even after the lockdown our trainers have called me up and told me, Ishan you know the thing, ‘if you need to be the best bowler in the country, you need to train that way. In these lockdown days, utilize all the facilities that you have at your place and train like you have never trained before’.
Your Bengal coach Arun Lal in an interview with cricket.com earlier was high on praise and said, Ishan has got height, pace, bounce and now discipline...he doesn’t give you a loose ball. He even said you were probably one bowler who could challenge Virat Kohli. How was it working with him?
As we all know he has made a huge comeback in his life after beating cancer. He has been an asset for us because if you see him right now, he can easily take on a challenge with us. There are times, he says that he will do 100 pushups right now and no one is ready to take the challenge. He is such a fitness freak and he is also mentally tough. He has single-handedly been the backbone of the team and also for me.
Do you think you can dismiss Virat Kohli?
(Laughs) I don't really want to say anything on this because eventually cricket is being played on the ground, not on social media. You need to go out and perform and you need to be disciplined if you want to get the wicket of Virat Kohli. Hopefully, one day I will but there is still a long way to go, I would say.
There is still uncertainty over it but if the IPL does happen, what are you most looking forward to with Kings XI Punjab?
As a youngster, everyone dreams of playing the IPL and it is a big platform for each and every youngster who is coming up in the main stage of cricket. If you ask me, it is a big opportunity for me because I will get to learn a lot of things from the legends of the game such as Anil (Kumble) Sir would be there as head coach, Glenn Maxwell, Sheldon Cottrell would be there. Hopefully, if the IPL does happen, I am keen on learning a lot of things from them.
Have you been in touch with your fellow U19 team-mates?
Not a lot of them. As I said, I have been in touch with Riyan Parag. He has challenged me to a 100 squat video and hopefully I will upload that soon. He has been one consistent.
Which has been one favourite spell in your cricket career so far?
I would rate the spell against Karnataka as one of the best bowling spells in my career. Karnataka is a very good side and a lot of Indian batsmen such as Manish Pandey, KL Rahul and Karun Nair were there. I will definitely put that performance high up on my list.
Your celebrations have also become quite the highlight...
I generally keep on celebrating the same way for five or six matches. Right now I am doing the (Roberto) Firmino one. Lastly, I have done (Mohammed) Salah, before that I had a mix of three, Cristiano Ronaldo was there, (Kylian) Mbappe was there, and John Cena was there, my last celebration that came in the Deodhar Trophy. I am trying to copy some new celebrations from PS4 and hopefully in the upcoming matches, I will do those.
You recently contributed a certain sum of money to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund and is also arranging meals for the less privileged. Tell us something more about that?
It's been a privilege for me to do such a thing. There are some people who are in need at such a time. I just raised my hand to help them. When I started, I thought I would provide food and cereals to 100 people but since I started, the number has increased to around 350. This has been a testing time for everyone involved in the last 21 days. I would generally suggest everyone not to panic. If it is essential only, then go out and even when you are going out, go out after taking proper measures like wearing a mask and if possible carry a sanitiser. I would tell everyone to mostly stay at home and enjoy with your family. We are busy with our normal life, but we have got a chance to spend time with our family so we should cherish that.