"Never thought these two months of cricket would turn into a rejuvenation for me! Off to my sweet home, Sanskari Nagari Baroda," reads Krunal Pandya's latest Instagram post.
People who followed Mumbai Indians' matches during this season of the Indian Premier League (IPL) would agree and nod in unison after reading that post. Krunal grabbed the limelight in 2016, his first IPL season. But it is the second year which throws more challenges and tests one's skills. The opposition comes more prepared and is aware of the player's strong and weak areas.
However, the southpaw from Baroda looked determined since the start of the tournament and was an integral part of the Mumbai team, the eventual champions of IPL 2017. May it be with the bat or ball, Krunal rose to the occasion and was electric on the field too (he would want to forget Ajinkya Rahane's dropped catch in the final though). Mid-way into the season, injury came back to haunt the 26-year old. However, that didn't deter him from making a comeback and playing an important role in the Qualifier 2 and the final.
Firstpost caught up with Krunal for a telephonic conversation to know more about his preparation, injuries and whether he was ready to play for India:
FP: How will you reflect on your success at the IPL this year?
Krunal: It was very pleasing. I am very happy with the way I have performed, because for any player, (the) second season is not easy. Everyone knows what you are doing. I had already played in my first season (2016) and everyone knew what were my strengths and weaknesses. So to come out and be consistent in the second season is surely very satisfying for me.
FP: Both in 2016 as well as 2017, you scored more than 200 runs and scalped at least five wickets. Did you prepare differently for your second season or just followed your routine?
Krunal: No, I followed the same routine, but made sure that I improved as a player. That is very important as you should always be one step ahead. If your game is just like the previous year eventually (it doesn't work) because even the opposition prepares and comes. If that happens, one won't be able to perform consistently. So I guess improvement is very necessary in cricket. The reason I could perform was because I worked on that aspect beforehand in both the departments – batting and bowling. In fact, I think I did better than that in IPL 2016.
FP: In IPL 2015, your brother Hardik succeeded. But in the next season, his form dipped while you performed. But this year, it was the Pandya brothers show. How was the experience playing with Hardik this year?
Krunal: Yeah, actually in 2015, Hardik performed and I was not there in the squad. But in 2016, he had a bad season and I had a good season. So basically, the pattern was one-one year. So this year, before the season started, we both sat down and I told, last year I performed, and the year before that you did well. But this year we will make sure we both perform. Then Hardik told me, "Yes, 100 percent". So touch wood, the season turned out to be the way we wished it should (for the) Pandya brothers and not Krunal or Hardik. And it was the best thing when the season finished.
FP: When Hardik comes back after playing for India, does he share his experience with you? If yes, what is the one thing that has helped you?
Krunal: Yes, we often talk. I mean we converse more on the mental aspect of the game, how to assess situations and play accordingly. Obviously, we both discuss cricket which has definitely helped me.
FP: In 2016, your coach Jitender Singh said you need to work more on scoring boundaries. Were you specifically working on that before the IPL this season?
Krunal: Yes, I guess. But last year also, if you see, I had hit around 14 to 15 (13) sixes. And this year also, I tried that. So yes, I was trying to improve of course, but he's a very strict coach. He believes in perfection. So I guess that is the reason he must have said that.
FP: You are considered to be a limited overs specialist. You must have had ambition to do well in first class cricket too. But you broke down in your first match in the Ranji Trophy. How frustrating was that phase?
Krunal: I won't call it frustrating; it was tough. My IPL in 2016 went superbly, so (doing well in) Ranji Trophy was important if I wanted to break into the Indian squad. But unfortunately I got injured. I underwent a surgery too which kept me out of cricket for four-five months. Even before the ninth IPL had started, I had a surgery on my shoulder, which sidelined me from the game. Yes, it was frustrating, but I guess it's part and parcel of the sport.
FP: How were you coping up mentally, because when you made a comeback you struck form immediately? You were brilliant in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, which in turn helped you to get selected for the Deodhar Trophy.
Krunal: I feel my quality of being mentally strong helped me. I never gave up. My coach mentored me and I was in a good space mentally. So I could give a performance straightaway in the Vijay Hazare and got picked for the Deodhar Trophy and then even the IPL went well.
FP: Talking about this season, you consistently contributed with the willow. One such knock came against Royal Challengers Bangalore at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. How did you go about that innings and what were your conversations with Kieron Pollard?
(Samuel Badree took a hat-trick and Mumbai were 7 for 4 chasing 143. The fifth wicket fell for 30, and that's when Krunal joined Pollard at the centre. They stitched together a 93-run stand which helped their side win the fixture.)
Krunal: It was 30/5 when I went out to bat. Pollard and I were just talking about taking the game as deep as possible. We decided we would bat till 15-16 overs. In the last five overs, we would see how many runs we had to chase and then decide how to go about the plan. That was the strategy and then the knock which Pollard played was amazing (and it) helped us win the match.
FP: What was your thought process while batting with Pollard? Giving him the strike, because he was hitting well?
Krunal: Actually, I was playing according to the situation. It is always necessary to play like that. Pollard was batting well. The wicket wasn't easy at all to play your strokes. But Pollard was in a different mood; he was striking the ball cleanly. I was making sure to put away the bad balls, but on good deliveries, I tried to give him the strike more. That is what I was trying to execute and Mumbai won.
FP: You have a 100 percent record against AB de Villiers, dismissing him four out of the four times you have played against him. What do you think troubles him, or how differently do you prepare to bowl at the South African?
Krunal: Main toh lucky hoon yaar unki chaar baar wicket mili hai (I am very lucky that I have got him out four times). He is a big batsman, a legend of the game. Whenever I bowl at him, I have nothing to fear. Even if he scores boundaries or sixes, I have nothing to lose; I can only win. But if I take his wicket, it will benefit me. I am fortunate that I have dismissed him four times, He is a world class player.
FP: Do you plan anything against a batsman of such calibre?
KP: No, I would not say I prepare differently. I just focus on my skill and my ability to vary the pace. Getting him out four times, in fact, is a huge achievement for me.
FP: You were among the wickets this IPL, but it was your economical bowling that stood out. Are you predominantly a defensive bowler or you were given that role?
Krunal: There is nothing like being defensive predominantly. But you have to understand the situation, monitor the team's requirements and bowl accordingly. And generally in T20 format, if you curb the run flow, wickets would automatically fall. So that is what I try – put brakes on the scoring.
FP: Even this year, your IPL was going well and you got injured. You had talked about physio Nitin Patel helping you. How did you keep your spirits high during those two-three matches that you had to sit out?
Krunal: I guess the injury was quite serious but full credit goes to Nitin Patel in making sure I was available for the knockout (playoff) matches.
FP: Were you discouraged?
Krunal: Yes, obviously I was. But mera aur injuries ka rishta bahut gehra hai [laughs] (My relation with injuries goes a long way back). For a day, I was very disappointed. But again, I would credit Patel and my family to ensure I was in a good space. It was a matter of one day, and after that, my ability to stay strong mentally aided me. I prepared myself (mentally) that I have to play again and work hard and get back into the game.
FP: You were entrusted with responsibilities with the bat in the playoffs and final and you repaid the faith...
Krunal: First of all, I felt really good to do well in the playoffs. Even against KKR (Kolkata Knight Riders played Mumbai Indians in the second Qualifier, and MI were in a precarious position having lost three wickets in the power play, chasing 107. Krunal stabilised the innings with a 30-ball 45, scoring at a strike rate of 150), I played a very important knock. Because the situation in that game was critical. When I strolled out to bat, the score was 30/3 (36/3) in the first six overs. I was thinking of playing a long innings and stay at the crease. I followed the same process in the final too. It depends on the demands of the situation, what your batting position is, what the target is, are you chasing or not. Playing according to those conditions is tough, but I back myself to guide my team out of difficulties and win matches. This mindset has helped me.
FP: Your support staff is quite strong. Mahela Jayawardene joined the team this year as the head coach, Sachin Tendulkar (team icon) has been there for quite sometime. Do you engage in conversations with Sachin? If yes, what is the one advice that you always work on or try to follow?
Krunal: Sachin sir told me that my 'never give up' attitude can be seen on the ground through my body language. "Your approach is very positive, don't ever lose that. You should always have this quality. That is your strength," he told me. I talked to him for 45 minutes. Life ke best 45 minutes the woh (Those were the best 45 minutes of my life).
FP: When did you have a talk with Sachin? Before the playoffs?
Krunal: We talked after Mumbai became the champion. Mahela often talks with the players. In fact, the whole support staff is good – Robin Singh, Shane Bond... Robin has helped me a lot; he always explains to me different aspects of batting.
FP: You have matured a lot with the bat as compared to last season. What did you work on in the last year?
Krunal: I believe a lot in preparation. If you prepare well before any tournament, results will follow. So as the tournament comes closer I just follow the process and I have got the results.
FP: Do you think you are ready to play for India in the shorter formats of the game?
Krunal: Bilkul, bilkul (Absolutely), 100 percent I am ready.
FP: Both mentally and skill-wise?
KP: Yes, yes 100 percent.
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