India skipper Virat Kohli added another feather to his cap on Tuesday after he was awarded the Polly Umrigar trophy for the best international cricketer in 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons during BCCI’s annual awards function.
The 29-year-old batsman has had an outstanding couple of seasons in all formats and averaged 89.6 and 75 in Test and ODIs respectively in 2017-18.
In the 2016-17 season, Kohli scored 1, 332 runs in 13 Tests at an average of 74 while in the ODI format, he amassed 1,516 runs in 27 matches at an average of 84.22.
In the women’s category, Smirti Mandhana was awarded the best international cricketer award for the 2017-18 season while Harmanpreet Kaur took home the laurels for 2016-17.
Kohli was accompanied by his wife Anushka Sharma for the award ceremony which was held in Bengaluru. The India star was delighted to receive the awards for both years in front of his wife.
“My wife’s here today so makes it more special. The awards didn’t happen last year but I’m glad it didn’t because she’s here now,” the India skipper stated after receiving the award.
The award ceremony was followed by the sixth annual MAK Pataudi Memorial lecture which was delivered by formed England batsman Kevin Pietersen. The South Africa-born star became the first non-Indian to deliver the lecture for BCCI.
Also in attendance for the ceremony was the Afghanistan cricket team who will take on India in their inaugural Test which gets underway on Thursday.
The 25-year-old Karnal-born pacer has been making waves in the domestic cricket for Delhi for the past few years.
So who exactly is Saini? Here is all you need to know about the right-armed pace bowler.
Hailing from Karnal in Haryana, Saini did not come from a well to do family with his father working as a driver with the Haryana Government. Unable to afford the fees for joining a cricket academy, the pacer had to make do with playing tennis-ball tournaments.
Using the money made from these tournaments, the youngster joined the Karnal Premier League run by Delhi bowler Sumit Narwal. It was Narwal who first saw the potential in Saini and soon, he convinced the pacer to move to Delhi to join his own academy.
It was while bowling as a net bowler for Delhi that skipper Gautam Gambhir first laid eyes on Saini and so enamored was the veteran batsman by the youngster’s bowling talent that he fought tooth and nail to get him selected for the Ranji squad.
Gambhir suffered a fallout with Delhi coach Bishan Singh Bedi in his bid to promote Saini along with a few other youngsters and was even handed a four-match ban.
Despite these controversies, Saini was eventually handed his first-class debut in Delhi’s clash against Vidarbha. The then 21-year-old pacer impressed with the ball in his maiden outing with figures of 2-18.
My ‘condolences’ to few DDCA members, @BishanBedi @ChetanChauhanCr on selection of ‘outsider’ Navdeep Saini to India squad. Am told black armbands are available in Bangalore too for INR 225 per roll!!! Sir, just remember Navdeep is an Indian first then comes his domicile @BCCI— Gautam Gambhir (@GautamGambhir) June 12, 2018
INJURIES AND INCONSISTENCY HAMPER PROGRESSION
Despite bowling with impressive speeds over 140kph, Saini was unable tie down a spot in the Delhi squad for the first three years and was constantly in and out of the side.
He made only five appearances in the Ranji Trophy in the 2015-16 season and followed it up with as many appearances in the subsequent season.
Although his Delhi career had not really taken off, he was selected as part of the India A squad for a practice match against the touring Australia side in the early part of 2017. Saini claimed the wickets of David Warner and Matt Renshaw in the first innings of the warm-up game.
It was in the 2017-18 season that Saini’s breakout year came. The tall and wiry pacer had a dream individual campaign as Delhi went all the way to the finals of the Ranji trophy where they were beaten by Vidarbha.
During the campaign, Saini picked up 34 wickets in just eight matches and was among the top-five wicket-takers for the season.
His crowning moment came in the semi-final of the competition between Delhi and Bengal where the pacer finished with match-winning figures of 7-79 to lead his side to the finals. He picked up a five-wicket haul in the finals but was unable to prevent a defeat for his side.
Though Karthik’s career promised so much in 2007, that joy was only short lived as he was consigned into fringes the international cricket following a string of poor performances.
With an extensive tour of England coming up shortly for the Indians, the Afghanistan Test is a great chance for Karthik to work himself back into the reckoning in the five-day format.
Though Saha remains the No1 choice for England for now, we take a look at a few reasons why Karthik could still play a big part on the tour.
The loss in form post 2007 saw the Tamil Nadu-born man be reduced to fleeting appearances for India and it took a sensational last-ball rescue act in the Nidahas T20 tri-series final earlier this year to catapult Karthik back into the team’s limited-overs setup.
After consistent performances in the domestic circuit, Karthik was elevated to the captain’s seat at Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL this year where he led the side to a respectable third-place finish while chipping in with valuable contributions with the bat.
Only few months ago, Parthiv Patel was ahead in the pecking order when it came to India’s Test reserve wicket-keepers but Karthik’s comeback has seen him leapfrog the fellow 33-year-old. Karthik is now a shoe-in for the reserve wicketkeeper’s role for the tour of England.
TOP-SCORER IN INDIA’S LAST SERIES WIN ON ENGLISH SOIL
The three-match series in 2007 was India’s last Test series win on English soil. In that series, Karthik started off with five on his debut at Lord’s but followed it up with a match-saving 60 in the second innings.
His 77-run first-innings knock in the second Test laid the foundation for India’s famous seven-wicket win. In the third Test at The Oval, Karthik was impressive once again as he racked up another 91 runs in the first-innings. The game ultimately ended in a draw sealing a series win for the Rahul Dravid-led team.
While it has been more than a decade since that series, Karthik has shown that he can succeed in the seaming conditions of England.
With Saha likely to take the wicket-keeping gloves for India in England, Karthik might have to bide his time before he gets a chance. However, this being a five-match Test series, there is every chance of one of India’s front-line batsmen finding himself out of form.
One of those batsmen could be Cheteswar Pujara who has had a miserable time during his red-ball county stint with Yorkshire.
Also, with the Test series being preceded by the T20Is and ODIs, Karthik could make a case for himself if he performs there. As we have seen with Rohit Sharma in the tour of South Africa, skipper Virat Kohli is not averse to taking limited-overs form into account while setting up his Test side.