Editor's Note: As the anticipation for IPL 2020 gathers steam, a bunch of cricketers recall their IPL debuts for our latest series, My First IPL Match. Over the next few days, you'll read tales of unexpected joy and nervous expectations from these sportsmen.
It's the 43rd match of the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League, the eleventh for Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) as they take on the erstwhile Delhi Daredevils. They have virtually nothing to play for and are all but out of the tournament. They have lost eight of their ten matches and not tasted victory in their last four. The famed batting line-up has struggled to adapt and adjust to the new format. While the veterans pondered over how to break the losing streak, it was just another day in the league for 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman Shreevats Goswami. Attend the team meeting on the matchday and then take his place on the bench.
At around 3 pm, Goswami enters the meeting room and sits beside captain Rahul Dravid. While the last 30 days and 10 matchday meetings have been routine for the youngster, the next few minutes are about to turn unreal.
Dravid asks Goswami whether he has opened in white-ball cricket, and upon getting an affirmative response, goes, "You go No 3 today."
"What? Mai khel raha hai? (What? I am playing?)" A stunned Goswami tries to make sense of things.
"Ya, ya you are playing," comes another calm reply.
"Every game I would just turn up for the team meeting, expecting again just a normal meeting to announce the team and I would not be there," Goswami recalls. "I knew that I wasn't going to get a game."
That Dravid conversation turned everything around for the youngster.
"It was very abrupt kind of thing," Goswami says. "So, I thought wow. I didn't know what to do. I wasn't nervous. I was more like taken aback. How come all of a sudden after the 10th game when there are not many games left they gave me an opportunity? I was just surprised. But then I started thinking that now I have to focus because I am playing. I went back to my room and called my parents and a few others that I am playing."
Back then, in a team of stars, domestic and fringe players wouldn’t get many chances to face the main bowlers such as Dale Steyn or Zaheer Khan in the nets or even get to bat every day in practice.
"I was 18, I hadn't played a single game till then," Goswami recalls. "I wasn’t prepared at all. Batsmen would practice on their own because there were two grounds in Bangalore, A and B. So I used to do knocking and didn't get much batting. We didn't get to face the main bowlers either."
Around two months ago, during the U-19 World Cup, BCCI had announced that two India U-19 players will be selected in each team.
RCB picked up Virat Kohli and Goswami from that team. And against the Daredevils on 19 May, 2008, the Bengal wicketkeeper-batsman's wait was about to end.
RCB lost opener Bharat Chipli in the fifth over, and Goswami strode out at 31/1. He started cautiously with 7 from 10 balls before taking on U-19 teammate Pradeep Sangwan to breathe momentum into the innings, smashing three fours and a six.
"Sometimes it turns out to be a good strategy (to be without preparation)," Goswami explains. "I wasn't feeling anything, to be honest, when I walked out in the middle."
"I was a young kid who hadn't played in front of such big crowd, so I just went in and actually what turned out to be a good thing was I wasn't aware of the crowds and started playing. I couldn't make sense of things. Even when I was hitting boundaries, the crowd used to cheer and I was like 'ye sab mere liye nahi hai shayad, kisi aur ke liye baja rahe hai (they are not cheering for me but someone else). They are just clapping because the fours are for RCB. I am just a new player playing for the first time so why would they clap for me? I was very unaware. There was absolutely no feeling that there is a crowd and people are shouting."
Goswami paced his innings nicely and his backfoot play impressed as he unfurled a slew of cuts, late cuts, and pulls.
"There was no plan or strategy," Goswami recalls. "How will I make a strategy? I had never played a T20 game. I was like play normally and according to the merit of the ball.
"Back foot play is still my strength. I am a short guy so people would bowl short to me. The normal players have to play on front foot, but I have to play on the back foot. Obviously, if the ball is there to cut, I will go for it.”
The RCB debutant was cautious against the disciplined Sri Lanka pacer Farveez Mahroof but aggressive against Sangwan, Yo Mahesh, and Rajat Bhatia.
"I started off well, hit few balls off the middle, and gained confidence. There was no plan or strategy (against Sangwan)," Goswami says. "Maybe it was easier because I had played Sangwan earlier in the nets during U-19 days and had never played Mahroof or the great McGrath. Koi nahi maar paa raha tha unko to mai kaisa maarunga unko (When no one was able to hit them, how could have I?) I was playing to the merit of the ball, there was no plan at all.
"When Rajat Bhatia came in to bowl in the middle overs, I felt I had played out good bowlers so now it's time to accelerate. So I kept hitting and was connecting them as well for fours."
The special moment arrived in the 15th over as Goswami reached his 50 off 39 balls. At 19 years and one day, he became the youngest to hit a fifty in the IPL.
"I was numb and didn't know how to react at first. What should I celebrate or should I even celebrate or not?" Goswami recalls. Misbah bhai was there with me so he patted my back and said well played. I still didn't know what happened. I picked up my bat slightly without any smile or anything. It was a surreal feeling. I didn't know how to react."
Goswami soon got out to Mahroof and the momentum slowed down. Misbah's late surge, hitting 24 off the last over, propelled RCB to 154/7. However, it wasn't enough as DD chased it down with five wickets to spare to stay alive.
Despite being on the losing side, Goswami was named the Man of the Match. It wasn't just for his batting though, he had shone with the gloves as well taking a catch, effecting a stumping, and playing a part in a run-out. It was perhaps the most challenging part of the game.
"In his first over itself, Zaheer bhai bowled way down the leg side and it went for a four. I was like I have left it, what will people say? I also didn't offer a full-fledged dive, I just shuffled and there was no chance of stopping it so I didn't dive. I felt people would question my effort. But no one said anything.
"I remember very well, Steyn was bowling and Kallis was at first slip. I asked him where to stand. Is this the right place? Should I go behind or come forward? He told me to just see a couple of balls and then adjust after that.
"And then I took the catch of ABD, it went very quick off his cut shot. Also, there was one instance where Gauti bhai (Gautam Gambhir) flicked Steyn for a boundary and I was like 'wow itne tez ball ko kaise maar raha hai? (How is he hitting such fast balls?)'. Then Anil bhai came. I was very nervous when he was bowling because he is a quick spinner and had heard that he is difficult to keep. But when I kept to him I felt he was the easiest one to keep because he is very accurate. At that time it wasn't spinning much so all 24 balls he would bowl right at the stumps, so there was no question of the ball coming behind. But luckily Dilshan tried to step out and hit, the ball turned and bounced and I stumped him," Goswami quips.
Goswami did sleep that night but later than usual.
"At that time we used to sleep late every day because the match used to go on till 11-11.30 and by the time we reached hotel it was 1.30 am. RCB were known to party hard. So, it was already 1.30-2 when we reached the hotel. That time there was Blackberry Messenger, so I replied to messages via the BBM, received calls, and then went to sleep."
Goswami later went on to win the Emerging Player of the Tournament award. Such a start would lay the foundation for the future for young talents but it wasn't the case with Goswami. He played just two matches next season and one in the 2010 edition.
"It (the debut performance) actually didn't impact my career at all," Goswami says. "Which was very surprising for me because once you are an emerging U-19 cricketer you expect more games next year right? I went back and hit runs in the domestic one-dayers as well. When someone gets an emerging player award next year you think you will play. I was expecting. I wish it did (have an impact) because in current times if someone is an emerging talent, he is the next big thing for India, the future of India but nothing of that sort happened with me. In fact, I kept playing lesser and lesser. I don't know the reason. Once domestic players don't play regularly in IPL it gets difficult.
"Martin Crowe (our chief cricket officer in the first season) was a very nice guy. He used to like me and compliment us and treat us equally but Ray Jennings (who came in in the second season) was the most horrible coach I have ever seen in my life. He was just very weird. He wouldn't treat domestic players properly at all. I don't think he did his homework properly because I never got a game, I was not good enough in his eyes."
However, amidst the disappointment, Goswami does look back at the debut fondly.
"When I look back, it was a special innings. It was a very surreal kind of feeling (that day). Strangely surreal," Goswami signs off.
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The likes of Manish Pandey and ever-improving Suryakumar Yadav are certain to maintain their places as the duo are the middle-order backbone.
Dravid added that young Indian batsmen need to develop the art of scrapping it out on low-scoring tracks.
Chasing 276 for victory on Tuesday, India were reduced to 193 for seven in 36th over but Deepak Chahar (69) and Bhuvneshwar Kumar (19) shared an unbroken 84-run stand to take the visitors home with three wickets in hand and five balls to spare.