Has Dad ever taken you to task? Dad? Yeah of course, he ran after me with a stick once. What did you do to deserve that? I don’t know, I was standing outside and dad came and got me with the stick. Why! In the old house, do you remember or not? You used to get me and my sister as well. I don’t know!
– Mom, please. See, she’s laughing, she knows it but won’t say.
-He must’ve said something. I didn’t say anything! I was standing outside, I came in and got beaten up with a stick.
-Why would I do that for no reason! You’ve played more than 90 Test matches, signed big IPL contracts, …but you still enjoy your simple food? Absolutely, I eat at home as much as I can, you stay out for so much of the year, …you eat outside food for 8 months. So it’s better than you eat home food when you’re back. You’ve come to Delhi, let me feed you Paneer Naan, that is our speciality here. Hopefully, you can finish the entire thing. It is the Delhi way to make you finish everything on your plate. Would you like to exchange plates?
-No, no, no. I’m very happy with whatever is on my plate. You must want to! No no, absolutely not. I’ve eaten a lot. I’ve been eating this all my life. On my cheat days, I eat Paneer Naan only. All your secrets will come out now! We don’t make non-vegetarian food at home. We order it from outside, …not even eggs are cooked at home. When I went from Under-17 to the Under-19 ZCA, …over there I… …started eating eggs. I used to also be scared of telling her, that she’ll be angry. So when I came home, I said that, …right in the morning, I thought I’d tell her, …otherwise they won’t even let me eat on top of that, …and I wouldn’t like hiding it from her. I said, “Mom, I’ve started eating eggs.” She said, “Oh god. He’s corrupted our way of life, he’s done this, he’s done that…” “What has happened to him I don’t know.” I was like, … I don’t know what I’ve done, I’ve only begun eating eggs! So I kept playing and soon after I told her I’d been eating non-vegetarian food. Mom started again, “Oh god, what has he done.” Dad was like, it’s fine. So what happens is, we eat eggs or non-veg in this room. So whenever mom crosses this room, she covers her entire face. I tell her, …mom what is this. We’re eating here and you’re doing this. So your mom does the most sledging? Mom in fact still beats me up. Now you don’t! Did not have complaints about the length of hair? In school it used to happen. When I used to study in Ganga, in Class 11, so we would come back from practice, …so I would fall asleep and in the mornings, the Vice Principal would come, …and say that whoever hasn’t had a haircut, …must get out. He would make us stand in front of the entire assembly. At that time we used to feel ashamed, then after that, we got used to that too. We were also arrogant.
He’d pull us up everyday and we’d stand outside everyday. In Under-19, Lalchand Rajput, …was our coach. Actually, he was very strict. At the time. He would tell us not to apply zinc, …not to wear sunglasses, …not to grow our hair long. You couldn’t listen to the iPod on the bus. We had gone on a New Zealand tour, …so he told me to get my hair cut. I went once and the place was closed. The second time I was tired and the third time, I don’t even remember. He said you’ll have to pay a fine. I was so tired by it all that I paid the fine every day.
I couldn’t go and keep trying to get a hair cut anymore. You must have made sacrifices, …to put him into cricket, both of you? To help him move forward, even though it was a compromise towards his studies. It wasn’t a small compromise, it was a big one.
-No, actually… …I was very interested in cricket myself. Okay. …so.
He says he was a fast bowler in his time. I don’t know how much of it is true, really. Even today, I am popular in the community! He was the Flintoff of his school. Oh wow! -That’s true, it’s absolutely right! Not a joke!
-He would’ve been selected alongside Kapil Dev! Of course, Mom used to tell this.
-No no, he tells me. So do you listen to Bharat Arun or to him, for all your bowling advice? No, this much I can say that my father has never spoken about cricket to me. When he isn’t around, …I eat his mother’s head about what he’s doing. But that’s different. I never say anything to him.
-Oh they criticize me as spectators. Ah. ‘What is he doing?’ ‘Why isn’t he moving forward.’
-Yes, exactly… So when…
-Actually ask them one thing, why were we not allowed camera phones when we were kids? Yes, please tell us.
-They didn’t exist at the time! No no, it was available. They just wouldn’t let me buy it. They’d let me buy a normal one, not one with a camera. Why? There weren’t any then!
-Maybe one or two. I think they didn’t exist, but maybe I’m forgetting. I saved up on my DA from Under-19 and then I bought a camera phone.
I think they didn’t exist, but maybe I’m forgetting. I saved up on my DA from Under-19 and then I bought a camera phone. And that he forgot somewhere. He had gone to Bangladesh and we’d just bought him a Samsung phone. They must’ve been having dinner at night, Ravi Shastri and all were there. So this gentleman left it on a table and came back. He tried finding out the next day but who would tell him. He didn’t find it. When I went for practice for the first time, …at the time the entire kit bag cost us about 8-9 thousand rupees. Right dad? He said, “What a great way to begin, …even before playing he’s lost us 8,000 rupees.” The first thing we got for you were your shoes from Lodhi Road. So, at that time, sir had said that, in trainers, …you’ll get injured. You must buy spikes. I was wondering what are spikes. He showed it to me and explained that there are sharp nails on the sole. So I said okay. But I used those spikes a lot actually! I used them for two years. If they ripped, I would get them stitched and continue wearing them. Now when I remember those spikes and the present times. Nowadays, if after two matches your feet hurt, you change your shoes. He had big feet from the beginning. So we wouldn’t get shoes in his size easily. Shoes, and pants as well. They would fit me like 3/4th or capris. I had just learnt how to drive a car, Maruti 800? I had learnt in that, How did you fit inside! I know I can, did you? When one doesn’t have an option, …then you adjust to everything. At that time, I didn’t have a choice. We had that car and I wanted to learn how to drive. So I learnt in that. Did you ever get fined? For what? That I’m too tall and my car is small? So one day, my mom found out that I came home at 2 or 3 AM. Then mom started again, …like normal moms. What is a normal mom! By normal mom, I mean, ‘Aren’t you ashamed. You come home so late…’ …a little bit of, ‘you ungrateful imbecile.’ That’s it? What more could she have said! While he was playing Junior Cricket, did you have to work hard to make him go? Did he wake up himself or… We’d wake him up twice. ‘Get up, it’s time to go.’ When he had to do something, he didn’t need to be told. From the beginning. So at that time, I used to be scared of sir a lot. And our sir was very strict. They found out that I am afraid of sir. So if I didn’t listen to them, they’d say, …that we’ll tell your sir right now. So I’d listen to what they had to say, …but now sir has become very chilled out. That year, I earned a lot of fame in Delhi when I took 13 wickets in one match. So everyone felt, ‘He’ll play Ranji Trophy, probably get a job and get settled with a good life.’ The very normal middle-class mindset that everyone has. Ours too. Seriously though, neither did I nor my parents ever, …expected that I would play for India so soon. So how did you find out that his name was in the team? He was asleep! He had come back from practice, and he slept. They had called…
-Ratnakar Shetty. Ratnakar Shetty had called. So they said, ‘We’re calling from BCCI.’ So I told his sister, ‘Eva, wake up Sonu.’ ‘Tell him the board has called.’ He got up, then he told his sister, …’Didi, I am going.’ Do you think about the fact that he’s close to completing 100 Test matches? No, I don’t think about it.
-No, I do think about it. I want him to play at least 125 Test matches. You are in a high pressure environment, sometimes you’re picked sometimes dropped, or you get wickets and you don’t. What is the role of family through those highs and lows. As a cricketer, if you are playing, …the family also has to deal with everything you’re going through. The good thing about them is, they’ve never really told me all of which they have faced. So this is the good thing about family that there is no extra pressure, …because you’re playing a sport and you should treat it like a sport. Enjoy it and work hard. If you are going in the right direction, …if you’re not taking any shortcuts, …then I think, …you’ll have great support. When an India basketball player, …and an India cricketer, …come face to face, or together for that matter, …who holds the reins at home? Of course, I! At home, whatever works is fine, it’s not about us or whatever. The world knows where you two met, …but who made the first move? I have a friend who had organised a tournament, and we had gone for it. I was the chief guest at that tournament. The chief guest thing turned out such that I started going everyday. So my friend said that you were here for one day as a chief guest and now you’re here everyday. He’d understood. I hadn’t said a word and still he’d understood. Obviously, you know how friends are. So I told him, do something. Help me take this forward. Did you get special attention as an India player? That time, Pratima didn’t like the fact.
-Yeah. Why! Like, ‘Humph, cricketers are here.’ Because, I’ll tell you. We four sisters were there at that time, …and all four sisters were Indian players. So, nobody knew us, but them… …people knew him and Shikhar Dhawan. He was more popular because Shikhar hadn’t played for India then. Yes.
-So there was a bit of jealousy there. So, how did you get to the marriage talk? I had decided the moment I saw her that I want to marry her. Day 1? Day 1, yes you are the one. I was very shy with Pratima at that time, I wouldn’t even talk to her. Yes!
-Then? It took me one year to manage this. To explain and to woo her. Then after one year when I thought that everything’s gone well, …then I proposed to her. His nature is such that he would talk to my sisters more than me. Because he would’ve been shy. So I never had a hint that there was something there. When he was leaving for Australia, that was the first time he told something. He told before he left, …that when I come back, there’s something important I want to talk to you about. There is this experience that every girl has, to understand what that ‘important’ thing is. That’s all I knew. For a month. I didn’t know he’d liked me for one year. So you were convinced about him?
-Yeah, yeah, yeah. I shouldn’t say this in front of him, but he’s a nice guy. What’s the one thing you love about him? Everything.
-He’s very caring. And very honest. Honest about everything. Very straightforward. The truth about Pratima is that, …whatever the matter may be, she’s upfront about it. That if this is right, it is right. Or if it is wrong, it is. So after getting married, how much have you changed? Have you seen a lot of change? Absolutely! You have to change. If you don’t change, married life is very difficult. Your responsibility increases. My mind was dedicated to cricket, I didn’t have a life outside it. Practice, gym, …and… …back home. These are the three things I would do. I wouldn’t even go out to meet friends or anything. I used to live a very hard life. Then I started going out with Pratima and enjoying things, …and started talking about things. What makes him angry? Is there anything that irritates him a lot? If he’s sleeping, don’t wake him up. He likes sleeping so much! We came back from Goa and the next day, …8:30pm, …Ishant fell asleep while watching the match in front of the TV. At 8:30! Then, the next day, …he woke up at 10! So 12 hours plus… …he slept for 13 hours! I am not used to sleeping so much and I get annoyed when someone sleeps too much. He isn’t able to show his annoyance to me, that’s his only problem. Is that so! That much!
-No, it’s not fear. It’s love! Yes, if we ever fight, …then he goes to the gym. Or he goes to the ground. When he comes back he’s absolutely normal. When you get angry? Um, I…
-Then, you have to listen. It doesn’t stop! Guess, who’s the punching bag! Sometimes when he’s angry while bowling or sledges, so do you give him feedback? Yes yes, that Pratima says.
-I have not heard him abuse in front of me till date. Never in my presence. I’ve only seen the video someone shared with me, saying look what Ishant is doing. And there were such extreme abuses in it, I have not even heard those before. Sports is something else, you have to play it like it is. As aggressive as he is on the ground, he’s extremely calm at home. This is an amazing combination. What’s funny about him? Does he make you laugh often? Yes. Always. When he cheats in Uno. My God! He cheats so much! I’m tired of defeating her! I’m tired of seeing her lose.
-Then he tells me, you’ve lost 1500, you’ve lost 2000 rupees. He’ll take the money from me, he’ll take it from my purse! He deals in crores, what will he get from stealing these small amounts? What are you saying! He doesn’t even leave 100 rupees with me if he has won at Uno. So what’s the one thing you wish for him? Is there a dream that you have for Ishant? I think all his dreams are mine now. But, do you feel the pressure when he’s bowling for India?
-Yes, I do. So what happens then?
-I do. There is no other problem, the problem is that he gets upset. He’s self motivated, …but sometimes there is a downfall in your career, …once I even heard him crying on the phone, …so it was a very, …emotional moment for me too. I had to make myself so strong, …to motivate Ishant in that moment. It was difficult for me too. But that worked.
-I don’t… I always say that I don’t share things with anyone. Till date I have not shared anything about my cricket with my parents, …she’s the only one I share everything with. So this is what marriage is about. You support each other in your weak moments. And it’s good I think. That’s what is… this is the beauty of marriage I think. That you have someone to share things with. Which plant is this? How would I know? Areca Palm.
-Areca Palm? These leaves are falling off. You have to trim it. 250 Test Wickets. Eighth five-wicket haul. From when I played in Edgbaston. What’s your most precious memorabilia? Apart from the India cap? Actually there’s nothing more memorable than that. There’s no better memory than that from the dressing room. Is there ever a fight for keeping the ball? No no, the one who gets a fifer, keeps it. So this is my first time, …going to the ground where Ishant started his cricket. I’m also meeting his first coach for the first time. First opportunity. I’ve never met him before. What is his age now? Sir is quite old. Tell me quite in numbers. Oh, I don’t know. Ask him when you get there.
-What, I should ask him his age? At the first meeting? I’ll ask him. There must be a lot of kids at the ground now. There must be a crowd of them, with the 2-month break on. How far is it?
-We’re nearly there. How are you? Fine? Where is sir? Sir is wearing sunglasses today. Ishant, you started here! What do you remember? There are many memories I have at this place. When all the schools refused to admit me after my 10th, …that they only take state players. At that time sir helped me out. I could play in the school that sir would teach at. Ganga International. So I benefitted a lot from that. Like I said, …school tournaments used to be quite big in our time. I could only progress to the next step because of this. When he came here, …I asked him… …What do you do? Play cricket? He said yes. I asked, do you bowl? He said yes. I said, come on, show me how you bowl. He was wearing rubber slippers like these. He bowled 2-3 balls in these and showed me. I said, come, I’ll get you admission in Ganga. He said he wanted Commerce. I said take science, do whatever you want. I explained the benefit to him too. That if you study elsewhere, you’ll get to practice 3 or 4 days. If you are here, we’ll practice everyday and play lots of matches. He said okay. Sir you’ve been coaching for 50 years. You had Ishant play for India in 3, 3.5 years! I haven’t made him play, …it is his hard work and his fate. He wasn’t afraid of his parents, he told me at home, …that he was afraid of you! He was always running away. It wasn’t like that. But that fear is necessary. Otherwise, …you can’t maintain discipline. It’s very important to have that. Someone should discipline you. So he’s been playing for India for 12 years. He’s played more than 90 Test Matches, …how much has he changed? We don’t call this change. This is the maturity that you get everyday. A bowler learns by bowling again and again, a batsman learns by batting repeatedly. Then when he would be sitting at home, …and watching his tapes, …he can find out where he made a mistake. Those are the things, …that improve you. He hates gym fitness right? I don’t say that, don’t do it. But, …you can’t become a cricketer by being in the gym all day. There is a gym here, …it is air-conditioned, …with songs playing. You are going to that gym to pass your time. Tell us stories of when you got scolded! I’m sure you would’ve heard a lot.
-There isn’t a single player who hasn’t been scolded. And it’s not once, there are so many tales. He must’ve been scolded many times. Would he get screamed at for overstepping or for whiling away his time?
-No no. He has never been into ‘time pass’, if he had, he wouldn’t have have reached where he has. The habit of sustaining a long spell is something I learnt here. Because sir would make us start bowling at 1 pm. And we would keep bowling till it was dark. That made such bowling fitness for us, …that was very good. Because, the bowling muscles are totally different. You can gym as much as you want, or you can run as much. But there is no substitute for bowling. Nowadays, you can see everything in multiple angles on TV. So, do you still get feedback? Sometimes sir gives me feedback. When I feel like he’s not doing it right. Like like? Just now sir said that your line and length is better compared to earlier. So I said, sir thank you, nice to hear it from you. Earlier, his deliveries used to go at angle. That’s not happening anymore. They go straight and then they either go this way or that. That’s not easy to pick. What’s his uniqueness, as a fast bowler? Like he said, he used to bowl for 5 hours. He never said, take the ball from me, …till I won’t play for India. Batting? He would bat very rarely. Then he went and saved a Test match! Yes! When he made those runs in that match, …and saved it. In that… …Gavaskar said on commentary, whichever nets he has been going, he must have got a chance to bat too. Ishant, did going to Sussex help you? Was there a big difference in your cricket? Yes. The first thing was that I didn’t get picked for the IPL. So obviously, if you don’t get picked for the IPL, …and you can see your teammates playing and you’re at home for 2 months, doing nothing. It’s mentally torturing. So I decided that even if I don’t get picked in the IPL, …I should go play County. Everyone used to say that you have to bowl further up, you have to bowl up, …but how to bowl further up, that’s what I learnt at County. The length balls need to be faster, …that can only happen with country cricket. What has changed in 12 years? I think, if you had seen at that time, I only knew how to bowl. I didn’t know anything about fast bowling. The only thing different between today and the bowler from the past is the experience, …it’s that experience that, …that helps you assess things quickly and make a plan accordingly. The Ponting Spell, …you were in some zone?
-Actually, for me it was never a big spell. To be very honest. Yes, it was career defining for me, …but I never thought that was the best spell of my life. Why? Because at that time I didn’t know anything about cricket! I was just showing up and bowling. Now that you see, the bowling I’m doing now or have done recently, …those are my better spells than what I bowled to Ponting. Lord’s spell was a much better spell. I took 5 wickets against England in Edgbaston, that was a good spell. Because now you know what you are doing. When you don’t know what you are doing? How can you say it was your best spell. So what was the moment, wearing the India jersey and India cap? When I wore it for the first time for Under-19 India, yes I cried. I got goosebumps for the first time. But after that I was normal. Because when you’re on the field, at Under-19 too, you start thinking about the game. You don’t think about what jersey you’re playing. So this is what cricket does to you actually. So we know you like bowling on Spicy Pitches, …let’s find out your Spicy Quotient! Ready? Absolutely. You look very excited! Okay, let’s go. Preferred captain, Dhoni or Virat? Oh dear, you’re starting with a bouncer! Both. Oh, you have to pick one. It’s not like that! Don’t create a controversy here! Favourite batsman, Virat or Sachin? Virat. Sledging or bouncer?
-Sledging. Who would you like to sledge more, Ricky Ponting or Steve Smith? Steve Smith. Onfield calmness or aggression? Calmness. 100 Test matches or World Cup selection? World Cup selection. Happy bowling with a new ball on the first morning of a Test match, …or go out and bat as a nightwatchman. Bowling a first over in a Test match, for sure. Vegetarian home cooked food, or non-veg outside? Vegetarian home cooked food. Rajma Rice, basically. What’s your cheat meal? Paneer ka Naan. Food made my your mom or your wife? Wife can’t cook, so obviously, my mother. I only have one option there. Your favourite pastime when you’re not playing cricket? Playing Uno with my wife. And cheating! And… winning! So this was much easier than it was for Ponting to face you, right? I don’t know, you should ask him first! Enjoyed?
-Yeah, very good. Thank you. Cricket is a simple thing and I am a simple man. It is better to stay the way you are. If you get to bowl, you have to do it, you have to play and win the match for your team. That’s all. That’s all my funda is…