Cricket Xtra: Praveen Kumar has rescued his cricket career

Ajit Vijaykumar 09:28 16/05/2016
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Bouncing back: Praveen.

Indian cricket is full of incredible tales. Some are of the rags-toriches variety, others remarkable determination and a quite few of great opportunities lost.

And a handful don’t fall in any category, but are inspirational nonetheless.

Praveen Kumar isn’t your average cricketer. He is an exceptionally gifted swing bowler who has the ability to run in all day and give it his all in the field without ever complaining; a true workhorse. But Praveen had another side to him, that of a rebel with a short fuse who could explode at any given moment. And that cost him a lot on his cricketing life.

Praveen had a stellar start to his career, bagging the player of the match award in 2008 CB series final in Australia. Watching the then 21-year-old Praveen bamboozle the Aussies with his banana swing was a treat to the eyes and earned him many admirers. That he could also swing the bat with some assurance was a bonus.

Praveen became a regular member of the limited overs side but was unlucky to miss out on the 2011 World Cup due to an elbow injury. His spot went to S Sreesanth who ended up as a two-time World Cup winner.

But Praveen kept fighting. During India’s disastrous tour of England in 2011, he was one of the very bright spots for the Indians, along with Rahul Dravid. He found a place on the Lord’s honour board for picking up a five-for and was the spearhead of the Indian attack in the absence of the injured Zaheer Khan.

Praveen never played a Test again. By the middle of 2012, he fell down the pecking order even in ODIs and T20s. Injuries and a bout of dengue had conspired to remove him from public memory.

And then, frustration started to set in. Praveen was always known as a player who was never far away from trouble.

In 2012 in Australia, a video emerged of Praveen abusing Indian supporters and threatening to do all-sorts to them for heckling the players during a training session. And after he lost his spot in the national team, he somehow became even more confrontational.

He comes from a family of wrestlers and that probably played a role in his overtly aggressive demeanour. In 2013, he was involved in skirmish during a domestic tournament that got physical as well. The match officials not only reprimanded him, they informed the BCCI that Praveen was ‘mentally unfit to play the game’.

The following year, he was not picked up by any franchise during the IPL auction. And that seemed like the end of the road for Praveen. Needless to say, he went into depression. Praveen revealed he refused to leaves his house fearing the comments that would be directed at him. However, adversity forced Praveen to change his ways, for the better.

Luckily, he was drafted in as a replacement for Zaheer in the Mumbai Indians side for 2014 after good friend Rohit Sharma fought for his inclusion.

Last year wasn’t particularly good for the maverick from Uttar Pradesh, going at more than nine an over in 12 IPL games. But Praveen had grown wiser and mellowed down considerably. All he needed was one more chance to prove that he can still offer something in limited overs cricket.

This year, the Gujarat Lions picked him up for Rs35 million (Dh1.9m) in the auction. And he has justified the faith shown in him. In 12 matches, the 29-year-old has picked up seven wickets at an economy of 7.75.

He went for 45 runs against Bangalore, but the way AB de Villiers and Virat Kohli were batting, I don’t think any bowler could have survived that attack. Even so, he has managed to hold his own this IPL.

And it is heartening to see that a player who had some serious behavioural issues has managed to overcome most of them and is now allowing his cricket to do most of the talking.

A change of pace

It has been one long Twenty20 season. It started with T20 series between India-Australia and New Zealand-Pakistan in January. Then came the Asia Cup followed by the World T20 in India. And within a few days of the West Indies lifting the world title in an incredible final in Kolkata, the Indian Premier League kicked off with two new franchises.

Close to five months of non-stop T20 cricket can be quite a lot to take in. Which is why, the first Test between England and Sri Lanka, which begins on Thursday, has come at an excellent time.

That Alastair Cook is on the verge of 10,000 Test runs only adds to the narrative.

It is very easy to develop tunnel vision when you stare at T20 cricket for months at a time. Tests allow us to get our cricketing bearings right and actually see a match develop over time.

History, sub-plots and technique will be crucial factors once more and I can’t wait for this change of pace.

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