Exclusive Interview with Bengal’s Veer Pratap Singh: Translating his dream into reality: It’s a well-known fact that the new ball offers more swing than the old ball and is perceived as a crucial factor in determining the outcome of a game. However, only an experienced campaigner would possess the technical know-how depending on which he can obtain reverse swing at times and get the crucial breakthroughs for his team in crunch situations. Likewise, there is no substitute for experience in human life. Young Veer Pratap had migrated to Kolkata a few years ago in order to earn a living in cricket. Today, he is one of Bengal’s strike bowlers and has to shoulder a lot of responsibilities in Mohammed Shami’s absence. Veer has become a sensible young man; thanks to the ups and downs he has seen in a life spanning just 23 years. Cric Fit correspondent Ritam Basu took the opportunity to have a conversation with this emerging player in the Indian domestic circuit at the Salt Lake JU Campus Ground a few days ago. Team Bengal’s practice session had got over at around 12:30 pm and after attending the customary video analysis of the players organised by Team Bengal in their technical analysis room, the 23 year old declared that he was free to give an interview. Dressed in blue sleeveless tees and shorts of the same colour, Veer came up to our representative and asked with a decent leer, ‘’Shall we start?’’. While our correspondent proposed to conduct the interview in some resting place, the interviewee said that he would prefer to chat with us striding. It wasn’t a bad idea after all as the conversation turned out to be a pleasant one. And, thus they advanced to ‘walk the talk’.
Q: You hail from Nalanda, Bihar. What made you move to Bengal at a young age?
Veer: It’s an obvious fact that my native town Nalanda doesn’t offer too many opportunities in cricket. I have a friend here in Kolkata who advised me to try my hand at club cricket in Kolkata. Thus, I shifted to this city with the objective of polishing my game.
Q: What or rather who inspired you to pursue cricket seriously?
Veer: I was hugely influenced by Brett Lee in my younger days. I was unfortunate not to have shared the KKR dressing room with him as we were playing for different clubs in Season 5 of the IPL.
Else, I would have surely got hold of him in order to converse with him a few things concerning fast bowling.
Q: Mohammed Shami also comes from another small town in Moradabad. Does the First Class/Club structure in Bengal embrace players from other states with outstretched arms?
Veer: Look, it is not as if players from other states are viewed as aliens in the realms of club cricket in Bengal. Shami played club cricket over here vigorously for five to six years before making his presence count and stepping up to the next level. They don’t ask you whether you are a local boy or an outsider. The basic parameter for evaluation has always been ‘talent’. And if you are well equipped to play cricket at this level, a place in the side is inevitable.
Q: Veer, I remember your debut First class game for Bengal, where you came out to bat in a grim situation and helped Bengal salvage a draw against a strong Delhi side. It must have been an intense experience. Talk us through that.
Veer: Yes indeed. It was a dream debut you can say. I did well in that match both with bat and the ball. Delhi boasted of a strong side that season as the likes of Pradeep Sangwan and Rajat Bhatia were Delhi’s ace performers in 2011. We had a tough time facing Sangwan. I came out to bat at No. 10 and we still required 30 odd runs to secure a first innings lead. Manni bhai (Manoj Tiwary) was at the other end and he shielded me for majority of the overs on the final day. That partnership I think was crucial for us and I remained unbeaten on 15 having survived fifty deliveries. Dadi (Sourav Ganguly’s nickname in the demesnes of Bengal cricket) looked quite pleased with my effort as we managed to go past Delhi’s first innings total.
(For the sake of statistics, Manoj Tiwary scored a magnificent 187 in that game while Veer remained unbeaten on 15 off 51 balls en route to Bengal’s 397/9; in reply to Delhi’s first innings total of 392. Earlier in the match, the young pacer had scalped two wickets for 66 runs).
Q: Your impressive performances in the domestic circuit earned you a contract with the Deccan Chargers in 2012. You had played alongside Cameron White and Kumar Sangakkara for Deccan Chargers. What was the experience of playing your maiden IPL season like?
Veer: I never thought I would secure an IPL contract. There were top notch cricketers like Kumar Sangakkara and Dale Steyn in Deccan Chargers, which made my stint with the club so special. And breaking into a team’s Playing Eleven in the IPL is itself a big deal because out of a pool of thirty players, only eighteen are picked to travel at a particular point of time. And initially towards the beginning of the tournament in 2012, I wasn’t even considered for that bunch of eighteen players. Then I was selected for one of our away matches against Rajasthan Royals and I was asked to bowl against Sangakkara in the nets. He was the captain of the team and he was impressed with my bowling. That broke the deadlock for me and I was drafted into the Playing Eleven for the following game. I scalped 10 wickets in as many matches that season.
Q: You have shared the dressing room with Morne Morkel for Kolkata Knight Riders and with Dale Steyn in Sunrisers Hyderabad.
What have you learnt from such stalwarts?
Veer: Dale Steyn bohot hi aggressive aur gusse walaa fast bowler hai, jisske karan unko itna success milaa hai (Dale Steyn is a very volatile and aggressive fast bowler because of which he has attained such unparalleled success in his career). Every young bowler should follow his example and inculcate that culture of aggression in his bowling. I will tell you one thing. He is a completely different person when he is off the field. Steyn was the biggest prankster in the side and would often fool around with his teammates in the hotel. I reckon he has set a template in that regard. Your on-field aggression should never creep into your off-field demeanour.
Steyn always said one thing to me. According to him, a fast bowler should put everything he has behind the bouncer. He also recommended me to use the length ball or the stock ball more frequently. Whether you bowl a bouncer or a fuller delivery, you must make maximum use of your strength while delivering the ball.
Q: Talk us through the Vision 2020 programme. Do you think such an initiative would help Bengal in the long run?
Veer: Yes, of course. The programme has already started proving its effectiveness as is evident from our performance this season. Thanks to Vision 2020, we don’t have to sit idle any longer in the off season as we are called upon to attend the camps and obtain technical input from the likes of VVS Laxman, Muttiah Muralitharan and T.A Sekar sir. Prior to the commencement of the Vision 2020 initiative, we didn’t receive technical advices as such pertaining to batting. We simply used to bat in the nets and sometimes talk to the coach and a few senior players regarding our game. The introduction of Vision 2020 and the expertise of Laxman sir, Murali sir and Sekar sir have assisted us in enhancing our basics. This will come in handy in the long run for the fact that we are able to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong as far as the basic technical skills are concerned.
Q: You have also been a partner to Mohammed Shami in the seam bowling department for Bengal. Tell us one thing. You reckon he is the best fast bowler in India at the moment?
Veer: I have not opened the bowling with Shami much but I have always been the first change bowler whenever (Ashok) Dinda and Shami are playing in the same team. Both of them helped me with my game during my initial days and not only them but all the seniors in the side like Laxmi dada (Laxmi Ratan Shukla), Manni da (Manoj Tiwary) and Shami da helped me immensely about the right length to bowl in. I believe Shami’s biggest prowess lies in his ability to bowl wicket to wicket deliveries consistently and with a brisk pace.
Q: You reckon Shami is the best fast bowler in India at this juncture?
Veer: Yes. He is in fact the best fast bowler India has at the moment. The way he bowled in the world cup despite sustaining an injury was highly commendable.
Q: Let’s discuss domestic cricket now. You recorded career best figures of 6/51 against Vidarbha in the quarter final of the Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2014; which enabled Bengal upstage Vidarbha and qualify for the semi-final. Can you reflect upon that particular performance of yours?
Veer: Yes, the track at Rajkot has always been a batting friendly wicket. We scored 300 runs in the first innings and were required to follow it with a stupendous bowling display to win the game. Fortunately, I bowled a good spell and managed to secure a victory for our side. They nearly chased us down in that game (Heaves a sigh of relief).
Q: Sairaj Bahutule is your new coach for this season. How is his coaching expertise assisting the team?
Veer: Besides imparting instructions pertaining to cricket, he has blended into the team eloquently and has cultivated a disciplinary culture in the team, which keeps both seniors and juniors in its purview. He is a friendly and an easy going man.
Q: What do you have to say about Bengal’s performance in the Ranji this year? Who are the bright prospects in the side?
Veer: We have been progressing quite well. All the players have chipped in with reasonable contributions so far and we have qualified for the knockouts as a result of this collective effort.
I think Abhimanyu (Easwaran) and Mukesh (Kumar) are two players who are promising and are capable of making it big in the near future.
Q: Has Sourav’s Ganguly’s new role as the C.A.B President had any influence on the minds of cricketers?
Veer: Yes, absolutely. He is a big source of inspiration for all of us. His association with cricket administration will prove beneficial for both C.A.B and the BCCI in the future. He talks to us frequently, listens to our problems and concerns and offers effective solution on most days. You can already see the way cricket has been progressing in Bengal with the commencement of the Vision 2020 Programme and expect loads of new initiatives and improvisations within the domestic structure in Bengal in the coming days. Keep supporting him.
Q: OK Veer. I will tell you the names of a few cricketers and you’ll have to point out one particular trait that all the following bowlers have in common?
Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra.
Veer: Is there any other similarity barring the fact that all of them are fast bowlers? (Bursts into laughter).
Q: The fact of the matter is that all three of them have had shortened international careers owing to a series of injuries. Your WhatsApp DPs suggest that you spend majority of your leisure time in gyms. How do you keep yourself fit?
Veer: Nice one. Fitness always plays a huge part in the lives of sportspersons regardless of time. If I engage myself in intense workout sessions in the off season, I try and make sure that I maintain my shape when the real cricketing season begins and the workload multiplies.
Q: Kindly share any two fitness tips with us which might help the budding cricketers who are reading this interview.
Veer: Fitness will be a crucial factor for sure. First and foremost, he will have to train under the supervision of a good trainer. Secondly, he will have to assess his skills and basics correctly and then proceed to bowl regularly in the nets. One cannot become a good fast bowler by solely focussing on workouts.
Q: Earlier in the season there was a spat between your Bengal Captain (Manoj Tiwary) and your KKR Captain (Gautam Gambhir). What had actually happened?
Veer: See, both of them are aggressors and such things often happen in the game of cricket. It would not be just to make a big thing of it (Though, it is well understood that he repressed the real fact due to obvious reasons).
Q: You have the Badshah (Shah Rukh Khan) as your owner in KKR. How does he motivate you all?
Veer: As we all know, he is one of the coolest people going around in the country. I joined KKR in 2014 and we went on to clinch the title that season. Two days before the final against Kings XI Punjab in Bangalore, he got us assembled together in the conference room of the hotel and showed us a video clip depicting the emotions and sentiments of the people of Kolkata and how badly they wanted us to win the tournament. That did the trick for us. Despite belonging to the film fraternity, he understands cricket pretty well but never does he try to interfere in our cricketing matters. That’s what I admire about him the most. And, the cartwheels that he turned on our triumph highlighted his emotions and elation. He is like our elder brother.
Q: Veer, it’s now time for the slog overs. Are you set to play Cric Fit’s famous rapid fire round?
Veer: Yeah, let’s begin.
Q: Your Nickname.
Q: Your favourite cuisine..
Q: Your favourite holiday destination.
Q: Your favourite actor.
Veer: Akshay Kumar
Q: Your favourite actress.
Veer: Katrina Kaif.
Q: Your favourite movie.
Q: Who are your best buddies in the Bengal changing room?
Veer: Sreevats Goswami, Sudip Chatterjee, Pankaj Shaw and Sayan Sekhar Mondal.
Q: Your favourite cricketing moment as of yet.
Veer: When I dismissed Sachin paaji in one of Deccan Charger’s away tie at the Wankhede in Season 5 of the IPL.
Q: Your Hobbies.
Veer: I am nothing more than an amateur when it comes to playing football. But, I love to play football in my off time.
Q: One person you dream of clicking a dual-fie with.
Veer: Amitabh Bachchan, without any shadow of a doubt.
Q: Your favourite sportspersons.
Veer: Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
Q: Best compliment if you have ever received in your cricketing career.
Veer: When I scalped Sachin paa’s wicket in 2012, Dale Steyn ran up to me and gave me a long, tight hug and exclaimed, ‘’Mate, if you can grab Sachin’s wicket, you can dismiss any batsman in the world’’. I will remember that moment throughout my life.
Q: If not a cricketer, then what?
Veer: I would have either become an actor or entered the army.
Q: Wasim Akram, your bowling coach in KKR had commented several months ago that you are capable of making it to the Indian Team in the near future. Later, Waqqar Younis who observed you from close quarters in the Vision 2020 camp echoed the same conjecture. What do you have to say about this?
Veer: They are legends of the game and have developed a stronger intuition than many of us, relying on which they can evaluate a certain player. I am glad that they have said such things about me, for which I am extremely grateful to them. That said; Veer Pratap Singh will not see himself differently post hearing the statement. Many people feel that I have the potential to play for India but I will work hard day in and day out to translate the dream into reality. There’s no shortcut to success. I can get there only if I work hard complete determined.
As soon as the conversation reached its conclusion, Veer exchanged customary greetings with our correspondent and drove away hastily in his sedan car.
‘Fast bowlers’ and ‘speed’ are the two sides of the same coin. Isn’t it?