New Delhi: In the 2011-12 domestic season, Robin Bist emerged as a dominant figure with over 1000 runs in the Ranji Trophy – becoming only the 12th batsman to achieve this distinction – as Rajasthan surged to their second consecutive title. This season Bist began with a century against Rest of India in the Irani Trophy and has now been rewarded with a place in the India A squad to face the touring English ahead of India’s Test series starting November 25.
Ahead of his 25th birthday, Bist spoke to Cricketnext about a range of topics – his change in attitude, sheer dedication to his craft, the inspiration he derives from his Ranji captain, seeking advice from Sachin Tendulkar, batting like Ricky Ponting and what getting the chance to play for India means for him.
Tell us about your century against Rest of India in the Irani Trophy. Do you consider it as your best innings to date?
The Rajasthan batsman is on a high after a superb 2011-12 Ranji season and has his sights firmly trained on representing India with distinction.
It was very satisfying to score a hundred against Rest of India considering their bowling attack comprising of Umesh Yadav, Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha. They all are a part of the current Indian team and are very fine bowlers. Taking into account the situation and quality of bowling, I think it is my best innings so far but I'm hopeful that I'll play many better innings than this one in the future.
Despite your fine performance Rajasthan suffered a massive defeat. How is team shaping up for the Ranji Trophy? Will the departure of Aakash Chopra to Himachal Pradesh affect the team combination?
You have to see that a string of our important players were not playing in the Irani Trophy match. Ashok Menaria and Rituraj Singh were in New Zealand playing for India A while Pankaj Singh, our premier fast bowler, didn't play due to injury. Their absence really hurt us.
As for Aakash bhaiya, he was a driving force for us in the last two seasons and played a key role in our victories but there are certain things which are not in our hand. I respect his decision to shift to Himachal Pradesh. It is definitely a loss for us but we have to move on. Ankit Lamba, his replacement, is a fine batsman and has scored loads of runs in Under-19 cricket.
I think we have a well-balanced team which is capable of putting up a creditable show. Vineet Saxena has been instrumental in our success of late and a lot will depend on what kind of start he provides to the team. Hrishikesh Kanitkar is a canny and very resourceful captain besides being the bedrock of our batting. Menaria is emerging as a very fine allrounder. Pankaj Singh, Rituraj and Deepak Chahar form a neat pace attack.
How important has Kanitkar's role been in Rajasthan's success?
I firmly believe that he deserves the most appreciation among all of us for the glory he brought to the state. He's a brilliant captain and batsman but I must add that he's an even better human being. He is the first to stand up during a crisis but the last when it comes to take the credit. He takes joy and pride in the success of his team-mates and likes to remain in the background. He's the glue that holds the team together and he commands respect from all team members. His man-management prowess is exemplary.
On a personal level, he has been a pillar of strength for me. In last year's Ranji final, I was around 90 runs short of reaching the 1000-run milestone before our second innings started. One day was remaining in the match and we had already sealed the victory on the basis of a first-innings lead. I usually bat at No. 5 but Hrishi bhaiya came to me and said that I would bat at No. 3 the next day, a position he had held with distinction. He told me that he had not seen any of his team members in his career notching up 1000 runs in a season so he would love to see me attaining this feat. That was an overwhelming and magnanimous gesture on his part. I owe a lot to him.
You're a transformed batsman since the last one year. Earlier, you scored a lot of half-centuries but hundreds eluded you but in the last 12 months, you reeled off six centuries. Did you retool your technique?
There are several reasons behind the transformation. Firstly, I've become more mature and responsible with age. I understand my role in the team as a senior batsman and how important it is to convert half-centuries into big hundreds. Though I'm not a number-crunching person, I believe people acknowledge and remember you when you consistently reel off big scores. I shot to fame because I scored a string of centuries. Of course, at times even the small contributions like 30s and 40s are worth more than hundreds but ultimately one needs to churn out big scores to become a force to reckon with.
I had the privilege to talk to Sachin Tendulkar before last year's Ranji Trophy and his advice did a world of good to me. Frankly, I was weak on the back foot and struggled against short balls. When I conveyed this to him, he told me that fast bowlers like to push short batsmen on the back foot with a barrage of short balls to gain a psychological advantage. He advised me to stand tall and get behind the line of the ball while playing on the back foot. He further stated that I must keep an eye on the ball all the time and should not flinch even if I have to take a few balls on my body. Good fast bowlers would trundle out few nasty bouncers and one must see the ball through to negotiate them. The way he articulated his thoughts with demonstration was amazing. I shall always be thankful to Sachin paaji.
Your style of batting is being compared with Ricky Ponting’s. Have you deliberately modeled your strokeplay on his lines?
I admit that Ricky Ponting is my favourite batsmen but believe me I haven't done anything deliberate to emulate him. When you admire someone, watch and observe them closely, you're bound to pick a few things subconsciously. It never occurred to me that some of my shots resemble Ponting’s until some of my team-mates and later journalists brought it to my notice.
I remember getting an autographed bat from Ponting when I was adjudged Man of the Series during the DDCA’s U-16 tournament. Virat Kohli was the captain of our team and I was vice-captain. Ponting was the chief guest for the prize distribution ceremony. Since then, I've been his ardent admirer.
How disappointed were you when an injury ruled you out of the India A tour of the West Indies?
It was heart-breaking. The next two months were difficult but I got over the disappointment quickly and started practicing as soon as I recovered. It was the monsoon season and rain was pelting down in Delhi but I kept at it. My mother is a teacher and my guardian angel. Her words of wisdom always work as an ointment when I feel dejected.
What drives you?
To tell you the truth, I don't want to be remembered just as a former first-class cricketer. The dream of representing my country in Test matches with distinction makes me go through the wringer without any complaints. Each minute spent in the nets or on the field gives me the high that I'm getting one inch closer to fulfill my dream. I'm prepared to toil 24 hours and die on the pitch for my country.