The 24-year-old engineer turned cricketer, Rajneesh Gurbani, was one of the main reasons for Vidarbha’s success in the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy. He finished the season as the second-highest wicket-taker with 39 wickets which included a hat-trick in the finals against Delhi.
A few days back, CricFit correspondent, Yash Kashikar, met the speedster for an exclusive interview. Here are the excerpts:
Q. Please take us through your formative years, was cricket always on the cards?
Rajneesh: I started playing cricket at my school St. Mary’s in Mumbai. In fact, I used to play 4-5 types of sports during those days and I also did quite well in it. So, initially, I did not focus on any particular sport as such. I also won the best athlete award at my school when I was just 7. Back then, our school cricket team was actually short of a bowler and they were looking for one. That is when the school team coach called me and asked to join the team’s practice. And in comparison with the beginners, I was doing well with the ball. So, eventually, I got selected for the school cricket team.
After that, I was selected in the Under-13 team at the Elf Vengsarkar’s cricket academy. And that is how my family got to know that I play cricket. By that time, even I had started developing more interest towards cricket and I started taking the game seriously. So, that is how my journey started.
Q. Since you are an Engineer, how did you manage to keep a balance between cricket and academics?
Rajneesh: To be honest, it was not easy but I had no other choice. The college from where I did my engineering – Shri Ramdeobaba college, Nagpur, it is very strict as far as the attendance is concerned. So, I could not bunk my college for practice. In fact, I had a lengthy 10-12 hours routine every day. My practice started at 6 AM in the morning after which I used to attend the college and then return to practice again in the evening. As a result, I was not able to attend my tuition classes. So, whatever syllabus I missed, I used to study it later in the night. Of course, keeping a balance between all these things was tough but somehow I managed it. In fact, I cleared my engineering without any backlogs.
I would like to especially thank my family here who have been with me throughout this journey. My father himself is a Civil Engineer, so, he always guided me and explained me the basic concepts in Engineering. And my mother has also been very supportive. They always gave me the liberty to concentrate more on my game rather than anything else.
Q. Now after the historic Ranji final, so much limelight, felicitation, and media hype. How has life changed for, Rajneesh Gurbani?
Rajneesh: To be honest, I am still the same Rajneesh Gurbani that I used to be. Of course, winning the Ranji title was an extremely special moment for all of us. When we returned back to Nagpur, the kind of reception we got at the airport, it was unbelievable. Everyone was extremely happy and proud of our achievement which actually gave all of us a lot of satisfaction. And we are looking forward to doing even better in the future.
Q. You went on to record the match-winning figures of 12 for 162 in the Semi-finals against Karnataka. However, you had spent a sleepless night before taking the field on the final day of the game. What exactly was going on in your mind during that time?
Rajneesh: We had actually conceded the first-innings lead to Karnataka in that game. So, we had no other choice but to win the game anyhow. That actually made me very nervous. In fact, I woke up several times in the odd hours of the night. I knew that I had to do something extraordinary for my team. I finally got out of bed at 5 a.m., and for the first time in my life, I was dressed and ready at 6 a.m.
Q. How has Subrato Banerjee (Bowling coach of Vidarbha) helped you to improve your game?
Rajneesh: I am grateful to Subrato sir as he was the one who picked me in the Vidarbha academy after getting impressed by my bowling in a talent hunt programme run by VCA. Whatever advice he gives to us as bowlers, I grasp it very quickly and that eventually reflects in my performance.
Q. And what kind of change has Chandrakant Pandit brought into the side?
Rajneesh: He has completely changed our mindset and approach towards the game. For example, even when we had conceded the first-innings lead to Karnataka in the semi-finals, everyone in the team was extremely confident of winning the game. He has brought the winning attitude in the team and has completely removed the negative approach from our minds.
Q. What was going on in your mind on the eve of the finals against Delhi? And how did the team prepare for this high-pressure encounter?
Rajneesh: To be honest, all of us took this game as if it was another fixture in the season. We never thought that this was the final and we have to do something different in this game. I was bowling well throughout the season, so, I knew what exactly I had to do in that game as well. Even as a team we were quite clear in our minds and we never got carried away with the occasion.
Q. Umesh Yadav, who is the most experienced bowler in Vidarbha’s side. He was not available for the finals which meant that there was going to be an additional responsibility on your shoulders. So, how did you cope up with this pressure?
Rajneesh: Of course since Umesh bhaiya was not there, I was going to be the strike bowler for the team. But, right from the beginning, I was quite clear in my mind about how I had to bowl. I was just focussing on my basics which I had done before the finals and eventually, it worked for me.
Q. How does it feel to be the only second bowler to take a hat-trick in the Ranji final? What was going on in your mind while you were bowling the hat-trick ball?
Rajneesh: Very few people are aware of this that I was not well at all before I went out to bowl in the finals. In fact, the doctors had said that I can’t play the final since I was extremely dehydrated. But that is when Chandrakant Pandit sir shouted at everyone and said that his players are not weak. No matter what happens on the field, he said that I will bowl the first ball of the game. 15 minutes prior to the game I was given a 100 ml saline and then I went out to bowl.
On the last two balls of that over I had got wickets and I completed my hat-trick in the next over. However, I wasn’t aware of it until someone from the crowd pointed out that it was a hat-trick bowl. Since I wasn’t well, I just wanted to go back to the pavilion as soon as possible and rest.
Q. You are naturally an outswinger but all the three balls of your hat-trick were in-dippers. Was it a plot from your side?
Rajneesh: Yes you can say that it was a strategy to bowl into the stumps. I am naturally an outswinger so batsmen weren’t expecting me to change that. And since a new batsman is nervous, I capitalized on it.
Q. Vidarbha had never even qualified for the semi-final of Ranji Trophy. However, this time around it went on to win the title. What was the difference maker or the X-factor in this season?
Rajneesh: I am not quite sure about what was the X-factor exactly but all of us enjoyed each others’ performance. I knew that if I bowled well then it would help the team a great deal. Every time I went out to bowl, I was confident that I can pick up the wickets and win the game for the team. There was no room for any negativity.
Q. How was it to play under Faiz Fazal? What kind of difference does the presence of a seasoned campaigner, Wasim Jaffer, in the dressing room bring to the side?
Rajneesh: Faiz bhaiya always treats me like a friend off the field. We have a great bonding which helps me a lot on the field as well. And of course, having someone like Wasim bhai is always valuable. He advises the bowlers from a batsman’s perspective which helps us a lot in understanding the batman’s mindset while bowling.
Q. How did the team celebrate after winning the title?
Rajneesh: Dixit sir who is the VCA president, he had thrown a party from his side for the team. All of us had a nice time together. Subrato sir sang a song (He giggles).
Q. What is the road ahead for Rajneesh Gurbani?
Rajneesh: I don’t think a lot about what will happen ahead. Jo hona hai woh hoga. I just want to work on my game and improve further.
Rajneesh takes guard against the rapid-fire bouncers hurled at him by CricFit correspondent, Yash Kashikar.
Your nickname: Tinku.
Favourite stadium: Eden Gardens (Kolkata).
Favourite cuisine: Barbeque.
Dream holiday destination: I love beaches so any place which has got a beautiful beach would do.
Cricketing idol: Umesh Yadav.
Celebrity crush: I don’t really have a celebrity crush (He chuckles).
One song which is at the top of your playlist right now: Dil Diya Gallan.
One thing you cannot live without: Cricket.
Describe yourself in one word: Shy.