'When in desperate need, dial Siddhesh Lad'
This has been the last-resort mantra for the last couple of years for the Mumbai side that has been traversing a bumpy ride. Time and again, Siddhesh Lad has pulled the domestic giants out of trouble which has earned him the moniker of 'crisis man' of Mumbai cricket. Last season, he was the highest run-getter for Mumbai and the only batsman from the side to feature in the top-20 list of the Ranji Trophy run-scoring charts, averaging 59.27. This season again, amidst the gloom, he ended as highest run-getter for Mumbai in Ranji Trophy (46.57). Firstpost caught up with Lad at his residence in Mumbai to understand what goes inside the mind of the crisis man, how he handles the pressure, the frustrations, and much more.
You have been consistently performing in the domestic circuit for the last two years. What has been the secret behind this consistency?
My ultimate goal is to play for the Indian team and today the competition is so high, you have to perform, you have no other option. And that is what is taking me ahead — my goal to play for India.
What has been the biggest change in the way you have approached your game over the past two years?
Spending time with the senior players. And also the Mumbai Indians team, even though I haven't played in the last four seasons, I have learned a lot from the senior players. Sharing a dressing room with someone like a Rohit (Sharma), a (Kieron) Pollard, Sachin sir, gives me a lot of confidence and whenever I get time to talk to them, I make the most of it. You come to know how they prepare for the game and their work ethics which has also has helped me in the domestic season. My work ethics have changed in the last 2-3 years. I have been more focussed. I plan my week. The interactions with seniors and coaches are helping me do well.
What makes you the crisis man of this Mumbai team?
Even I don't know what makes me the crisis man, but yes, I know that I always like to play under pressure. Whenever I am given some responsibility, I accept the challenge and I am someone who always plays for the team. So that is the mantra; play for the team, understand the situation the team is in, and approach the game accordingly. That's how I play and it gives me success.
What was your first reaction when you heard the term 'crisis man of Mumbai cricket?'
The feeling was good. If someone gives you that tag, it feels great. It feels like you have achieved something playing for Mumbai.
Does the tag put extra pressure on you?
No, not really. It doesn't bother me much because I know I am going to do well in the pressure situation and almost every time I have done well. But yes, I am also a human being, so I also make mistakes sometimes. It is fine.
How do you consistently keep getting Mumbai out of trouble?
The last two-three years we haven't had great seasons. So whenever I got to bat, I get some or the other situation where I have to bail the team out. And as I said, I just love playing for the team. I am happy if the team wins, it doesn't matter if I score 10, 100 or 150. But if the team wins, I am happy. That is something that has helped me do well in these situations.
What does pressure mean to you?
I love pressure. Whenever I am under pressure, I do well because I like to accept the challenge. It comes from your preparations. You need to prepare well for the game and the situations which I have already done in the practice sessions along with mental toughness.
Is this ability to soak pressure innate, or did you develop it over time?
I think mental toughness came to me since I was young. I used to study at Swami Vivekanand International School in Borivali, Gorai. When I was 10, I was selected for Shivaji Park Cricket Academy under Pravin Amre sir. So I used to travel daily. I used to go to school in the morning. Then I used to leave one hour early because I had practice. I used to travel to Shivaji Park daily for one hour and after practice, for one hour. When I used to return from practice, they were office timings and it was too crowded in the trains. I have done that for four-five years and that is something that has helped me to be mentally tough, travelling in Mumbai's local trains.
And then when you got on domestic scene, what helped you keep that mental toughness. Because playing in club cricket and maidans is very different from Ranji Trophy and there is also the limelight on you?
It comes from your preparations. I make sure that in the off-season and whenever I practice, I practice according to the match situation. I keep in mind that this situation will come when I will be in the game. I talk a lot to the senior players such as (Aditya) Tare, Abhishek Nayar, Rohit and share experiences.
You appear to be very calm in the middle and don't show any emotions. But is there somewhere hidden aggression inside you?
Aggression is something natural. If you don't show it doesn't mean you aren't aggressive. Yes, it must be within me. I don't like to express in front of everyone but I am sure that it is inside me.
Who do you credit this calmness to?
My mom and dad (smiles), because even they are very calm. And I have spent a lot of time practicing under my dad. He was my first coach and I started playing cricket under him. So this is something that has come from my surroundings — parents, friends, everyone is so calm.
How much has your father impacted your career?
His impact has been incredible. I started playing under him and I was not so interested in practising every day, but he made sure that I practised every morning and evening. He gave me a lot of time when I was young. It is remarkable. It is so difficult, giving time to your children, especially in Mumbai. His goal and dream were to make sure I play Ranji Trophy and for India. So yes, credit to him.
How much do you do visualisation?
I never used to visualise, but when I spoke to Sachin (Tendulkar) sir, I asked him what do you think before you go to bat, what are your preparations? He told me that it is very important for one to visualise what is going on in the match, because when you are sitting outside, you don't know how the wicket is playing, what are the fielders doing, how the bowler is bowling. So you need to visualise before going out to bat. I have done this for a long time now and it is something that has helped me in my game.
What kind of visualisation you do generally?
Generally, before the game, I visualise that no matter what situation, I am winning this game for my team. I visualise different situations, what situation can come ahead of me. Before going to bat, I visualise how the bowler is bowling, how the wicket is looking and playing. What the fielders are doing. Everything. It's like a simulation.
Do you visualise on the eve of the match too?
I visualise every time a day before the game. It doesn't matter if it's a big game or if I am playing for the club. The preparations remain the same. You can't prepare differently. So I don't feel that this is a big or small game.
What kind of visualisations you do then?
How can I win the game for my team. What situations can arrive ahead of me in this game. How is the ground, which bowlers I am going to face tomorrow, how their actions are — everything. I visualise these things and then go to sleep.
How much of your game is premeditated?
Not a lot. I don't premeditate. I like to play to the merit of the ball. I don't think much before playing. I just make sure that my subconscious mind takes the role because I have practised so much in the nets that I don't need to premeditate.
Suppose there is a heap of wickets falling and you are in the dressing room balcony viewing all this. What goes through your mind while you are preparing to come out in the middle?
Basically, I am always nervous before I go to bat. I am sure every batsman is. I don't think too much before I go to bat because it makes me more nervous. I just go out there and take it as an opportunity. I like to express myself whenever the team is in trouble. Technically, the opposition team has an attacking field, so I like to dominate that field, it gets you a lot of runs. I sit with the video analyst and see what the bowler is bowling, how the wicket is behaving, what I need to do, what shots I can play and what I can avoid.
Are there nerves when you go there, take your guard and prepare to face the first ball?
I am nervous before facing the first ball, but after 2-3 balls, I am aright. But before facing any ball, no matter what level I am playing, be it a club, school or first-class cricket, I am nervous. After I face my first ball, I am alright even if I don't score runs or get beaten.
When coming to bat in tough situations, what's your approach with the opposition on top? Counter-attack or see off that tough period?
It depends on the situation, wicket and what the bowler is bowling. I read it very nicely. If the wicket is good and even if we are 4-5 down, I go and counter. I have done that in quite a few innings. (Something like) We are 50-5 and I've played my shots.
What's going through your mind in between deliveries?
Whenever I get negative thoughts, I make sure that I go on the side, take a deep breath and come back to face the ball, don’t think too much before the ball is bowled. Normally, I don't get many thoughts while batting because I play to the situation and according to the merit of the ball. If you are premeditating, you will get a lot of thoughts, but if you are not then it's fine.
How do you construct your innings? What's the approach?
Normally, I try and play positive cricket. I But it is again according to the situation. If the team wants me to stay for a while and it demands me to play for an hour without scoring a single run, then so be it. Because it will dry up things and the wicket as well. And if the team wants me to attack, I will attack.
How do you shepherd the lower order?
I have spoken a lot about this to Abhishek Nayar. He used to play at that number where I play, he has shared a lot of experiences. How I need to approach when I am playing with the tailenders or lower order. How many balls I have to play and allow them to play. I have spoken a lot to senior players on how to play and it comes with experience because I have been playing at No 5, 6 and 7 before.
What kind of chat you have with the tailenders?
I know their abilities. I always gave them the confidence that you have the ability and you can do this, that, you can play easily, you don't need to think much, just play like this. Just be positive with them. Giving them confidence is necessary whenever I go to bat.
You played at No 3 this season, what kind of position you prefer to bat in?
I always preferred batting No 3 or 4 because it gives you time. The field is attacking, so I get a lot of runs. When I go in to bat at 5 or 6, the score is already 200-odd, so the field is all spread and boundaries are not easy (to come). As a player, if I want to play for India, I have to play long innings and that will only come if I play at No 3 or 4 or maximum 5.
Despite scoring heavily in the past two years, you haven't found a place even in the A side. How much frustration does it cause?
Sometimes it gives you a bit of frustration. But selection is not in my hand. What is in my hand is to perform and I have been performing well in the last 2-3 seasons. So somewhere, I believe that time will come and I will get a call to play for India 'A' or India.
Sunil Gavaskar had a lot of praise for you in one of his columns in a newspaper and he also said that there seems to be a deep set bias with regards to the selection of Mumbai cricketers. What's your view on that?
Everyone is performing. There are a lot of performances all over India and I am not thinking much about whether they are biased or not. What is in my hand is to perform and perform better next year and much better next to next year. I don't think much about the selection process; I just think about my cricket, preparations and somewhere I believe that if I keep on doing well consistently, I will get selected.
Is there somewhere a goal or a benchmark you have set which will help you get to that next step?
I have done pretty well in the domestic season in the last 2 years. If I get the opportunity to play for Mumbai Indians in IPL and if I do well there, automatically everyone will have a look at me. This is something I've been missing, playing the IPL. It is the best platform right now to do well and get selected for the A team and the Indian team. So I think if I do well there, definitely I will be promoted.
You have been a part of MI since the 2015 season, you kept getting retained but that debut remains elusive. In these years, how much was that desperation to get that debut match for MI?
It is a bit frustrating sometimes. You need to be patient though. I also believe that the faith they have kept in me in retaining every year, they also somewhere feel that I am capable of the doing the job and somewhere they feel that I will get my due. And IPL is such that even if you play after 2-3 years, if you perform well in 3-4 games, definitely you will get promoted to the next level.
So IPL compared with domestic cricket gives you the extra edge for going to the next level...
Yes, because I feel if you want to go ahead, you need to be exceptional in domestic cricket. But IPL is such that you play against international level, quality players, the best in the world, so of course, if you perform against the best in the world, the attention you get is different than what you get in the domestic circuit. So, yes, somewhere I feel that if you do well in IPL, there are more chances of you getting promoted.
Being a part of the squad has helped you?
Immensely. As I said, sharing the dressing room with big players, spending time with Sachin sir, it has helped me a lot. I feel really happy that I am a part of the Mumbai Indians team. They have shown so much faith in me. I always talk to the senior players, see what their work ethics are, how they prepare before a game. How they approach the game. What's going inside their mind. Training with big trainers (has helped). Our fielding coach was Jonty (Rhodes) for 2-3 seasons. So, it helps you in all the departments, training, batting and fielding wise. This is something that has helped me do well in domestic cricket.
Do you finally see yourself making your debut this season?
I believe and I wish. Somewhere I feel that Mumbai Indians have backed me because they feel that I can play for the team. And I am sure that I will get my due.
There is something interesting written on your arm - A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor...
If you don't get those big waves coming ahead of you, you won't be so skilled. This is something which I go through. I have gone through a lot of ups and downs playing cricket. So if you don't take it positively and are not skilled, then you won't be that big a player.
What prompted you to get that tattoo and when did you decide to get one?
I like this quote. This is something related to my life - A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. I got this tattoo three years back. I was injured then, so I had time to think about this and make a tattoo.
What gets you pumped up on the field?
Winning the game for the team. This is something that motivates me. Nothing motivates me more than this. If someone says something or sledges on the field, doesn't matter, I am very calm. My only motivation is to win games for the team.
What's your biggest strength?
Playing horizontal shots. Because I have practiced a lot on the cement wickets. When I was in the school, I practiced there, even Rohit practiced there. That's the reason we see Rohit play the cut and pull really well. Playing cut and pull is my strength and I back it.
When not playing cricket, what do you do off the field?
Off the field, I like to play different sports, sometimes I play badminton, turf football. I like to spend some time with my family, friends, that's something I need when I am off the field. When I have a week or two, sometimes, I go out on a tour abroad. After IPL, in June, I get some time to go out. I've been to US, Europe in the last 2-3 years because I love travelling and witnessing different cultures.