Subodh Bhati has been performing consistently in the domestic circuit but he is still yet to play in the IPL. However, his double ton in the club T20 tournament recently hogged the limelight and it seems things have finally started to go in the right direction for the 30-year-old Delhi cricketer. We caught up with Bhati and learned about his cricketing journey and his next step to achieve his dream.
Despite being a bowling all-rounder, you broke all kinds of records with the bat during that knock. Please share your experience about the innings that has now gone viral on social media.
Subodh: Although I have always been a bowling all-rounder, it's my batting that has been a plus point for me. When I made my debut in domestic cricket in one-dayers, I was asked to play at No. 3 just because of my batting. I didn't click at that time due to a lack of maturity and lot of pressure, so I started my career at top of the order. When I play local cricket, I open the batting on most occasions. And I have scored a double-century earlier in my career also (in 2018).
After this heroic knock of yours, do you want to be considered as a batting all-rounder now or are you happy with being called as a bowling all-rounder only?
Subodh: I am satisfied with being termed as a bowling all-rounder because bowling has always been my strong point throughout my career. If you see my bowling stats, you will know why it is my strength. I always bowl the most crucial overs for my side, usually at death. Even while batting, I either open or play the role of a finisher. However, it is my bowling that I enjoy and trust upon more than anything else. Batting has always been my plus point but I have established myself as a bowling all-rounder in the circuit. I don't want to think too much about it and want to enjoy my cricket.
You made your first-class debut in 2015 at the age of 24, unlike other cricketers who start way early in their career. Where was your talent hidden for so many years and how did you jump to first-class cricket so late?
Subodh: Actually, I started playing cricket at the age of 18. When I got a leather ball in my hands for the first time in my life, I was 18 years old. There was no cricket in my school. I used to live in Modinagar, which is a small town (in UP). There were no facilities or academies there so no one knew where to go to play cricket. We used to play gully cricket with Cosco (ball) but that also stopped after some time as classmates did not use to let me play since I was good at it. So, I started playing volleyball in school. When I completed my class 12th, there were some trials (cricket) happening. Since I did not have money to buy bus tickets, I used to travel in loaded trucks. I used to feel like a king whenever I got a front seat in that truck. So I started my cricket at age of 18 and then left for Rajasthan, where I was the highest wicket-taker for my side for three years. I took a lot of wickets there and once I took 61 wickets in 13 innings where I had 9 five-wicket hauls. But I was not given an opportunity in Rajasthan side as I was banned by being termed as an outsider. I came to Delhi then and played J P Atre (cricket tournament) and ended as the highest wicket-taker for Delhi. The same year, I went to play the Moin-ud-Dowlah tournament for ONGC where Gautam Gambhir was our captain. In the match against Sri Lanka A, I took 4 wickets and that is when Gautam bhaiya saw me and assured me that I will get an opportunity to play. That is where my journey started and by this time, I was already 24. But I was in the line for so many years. I was a stand-by player for Delhi in Under-22. While I got the opportunity at age of 24, I had caught a few eyeballs with my performances since I started playing cricket at age of 18.
First impression is very important and you made a significant impact while playing in front of Gautam Gambhir. Do you give him the credit for your cricket career?
Subodh: He (Gautam Gambhir) was the one who gave me the opportunity to play and I would want to give him the credit for my career. However, there are many people who played a huge role in my journey. When you keep working hard, god keeps on sending some form or the other to help you out, hold your hands and show you the path. When I came, there was Naman Sharma bhaiya who gave me the chance to play for a bigger academy in Ghaziabad. He made me play so many tournaments and matches where so many other people saw me. Then those people who could make me go a step higher in my career, they started calling him and then I started going to Sonnet Club. Then Tarak (Sinha) sir introduced me to Delhi and gave me the opportunities to play there. All of us are from Sonnet - Me, Pant (Rishabh), Ashish (Nehra) bhaiya, Aakash (Chopra) bhaiya. From there, I played for ONGC and when Gautam Wadhera bhaiya saw me, he took me further ahead. Gautam Wadera bhaiya, Naresh Sharma bhaiya - They helped me a lot to get into the Ranji team. They fought a lot for me and all of them were like a blessing to me. If they were not there, I would have never been able to play in front of Gautam (Gambhir) bhaiya.
Support of family is a very important aspect in life of a cricketer. How was the support from your family and what was their role in your career?
Subodh: To be very frank, they (family) did not play any role in my early days. I feel if I had started to play cricket during my school days, I would have been somewhere else today. Had I played Under-19 cricket, I would have been somewhere else. When I started playing cricket, Under-19 was almost finished for me. Playing Under-19 is very important for a player because your career gets the required push. Playing directly in Ranji becomes quite difficult. I used to get beaten up at home for playing. My family never knew what I used to do in cricket. When I was playing the final of one-days against Gujarat, my father did not know if I was a batsman or a bowler. I got dismissed on 1-2 runs and my father told me that you are not batting properly. I was the 2nd highest wicket-taker in India that year. Talking about family, they never let me face any financial problems. They did more than they could have. Although we could not afford to travel from Modinagar to Ghaziabad by bus, but at least they let me go by truck. In small towns, cricket has just started to become a profession. Earlier, it was just a sport for all of us so people used to laugh at me. In middle-class families, there is a lot of pressure and my family supported me at that time and I have no complaints from them.
You also pursued a degree in law apart from playing cricket. Considering there was no domestic cricket for last couple of years due to pandemic, do you think all the young budding cricketers should have a back-up option which could come in handy in case anything goes downtown?
Subodh: Even if there is no pandemic, there should always be a back-up plan. BCCI does not give too much to first-class players. For the matches that we play in a year, we will get the match fees after 5-6 months. For someone who only plays cricket, he won't have any money for fulfilling his diet and basic needs. If he can't eat a proper diet and get protein in-take, it becomes very difficult for a domestic cricketer.
What do you think is the reason behind the same? BCCI is the richest cricket board but despite everything, there were a lot of complaints against them from first-class players, teams and umpires during the time of the pandemic. What's your take on this?
Subodh: I think BCCI should start focusing more on the domestic players of the country. BCCI gives a central contract on an annual basis where they keep players of all the formats separately and all of them get money. When it comes to ground level, the fees has increased for days matches (red-ball cricket) in last 2-3 years. But the discrimination between players of all formats is everywhere. Those players who play only days (red-ball cricket), they are financially stable. However, cricketers who only play one-day and T20 are not able to earn anything. They can't even earn 4-5 lakhs in a year. For someone who can't even earn that much amount, how will he survive? Although he has to put in the same efforts and show same dedication as everyone else, he still does not have money. To add on, the matches (one-day and T20) also does not count when one wants to apply for position of a coach in future. BCCI only counts the number of days matches (red-ball) for those positions or any other schemes.
So you think that BCCI should work on bringing a few changes in their schemes and contracts should be made keeping the welfare of first-class players in mind. Right?
Subodh: Yes, BCCI needs to focus more on domestic one-day and T20 players. While IPL is there, what about the players who are not playing IPL? You have shifted your entire focus to IPL. If the player gets a central contract, he will have some assurance in case he suffers from an injury. The career of a player is like this, he can work for the whole year only to get injured at the last moment. In the case, his year has ended and he will become financially weaker because of the same. Cricket is like daily wages, if you play you earn, if you don't play you won't. For cricketers who have a central contracts, even if they get injured they know that they will earn a stipulated amount as per the contract. For us, there is no contract at all. If we get injured during a match, we won't get any money only thereafter. Hence, we could end up earning only Rs. 15000-20000 the whole year, then where will we go? Hence, BCCI should think on these lines and start counting players who play only one-days and T20s. Since there are no jobs, they should consider giving us a contract.
The focus of BCCI to identify new talent has shifted from domestic cricket to IPL in last few years, with current India's squad selected for Sri Lanka tour a prime example. Do you think that despite all the advantages of IPL, it is a slight disadvantage for domestic players who have been continuously performing in the domestic circuit?
Subodh: To be very honest, performances in domestic cricket are not given their due justice. There is Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy before IPL but it doesn't really help the cause. Talking about myself, I was twice the highest wicket-taker but I never got sold in IPL. I made runs, I took wickets also, I did everything but still could not find an IPL team. I was there in the auction but never attracted a bid from any franchise. Had I given the same performances in Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) or Karnataka Premier League (KPL), then maybe I could have been sold in IPL. I don't know if the performances in first-class cricket are even being considered or not. I don't think that any player from Ranji Trophy has played for India in the last few years.
Do you think that BCCI should change its approach while selecting players for India team? At least for Test matches, should they consider Ranji Trophy performances instead of IPL? What's your opinion?
Subodh: IPL is a club cricket so it's up to them what they want to think. Keeping IPL aside, BCCI should increase the wages for its domestic players across all formats and give them more life security. If you can't give life security, at least give the players year security. The life of a cricketer is till the age of 35 and he can earn only till that time. If he gets injured 2-3 times in that period, then what will he earn and what will he eat? He anyways won't be able to find work after the age of 35. This is why the current state of first-class cricketers in India is very bad. At least, players who have played first-class cricket, they can become selectors or coach later. But what about the players who have played only one-days and T20s? They don't even count their matches as everywhere the criteria will say 20, 25, 30 matches of first-class cricket. The state does not let one-day, T20 players play first-class cricket. So he is nowhere in the criteria. Firstly, he earns less and secondly he does not have any security after the age of 35.
BCCI needs to start focusing more on One-day and T20 players as well apart from first-class players to ensure that the players don't get demotivated. This can lead to a confused state of mind for youngsters who become sceptical about their future in this field. Right?
Subodh: Exactly, you need money in your pocket for all the basic needs. For your home, family and yourself, you need money for everything to continue smoothly.
There have been reports about you getting an offer to play cricket abroad. Have you ever thought of accepting those offers?
Subodh: I got a good offer from Dubai and I also got one from Lanka. However, whenever we start playing, the ultimate goal is always to play for India. I still have that dream alive within me which is why I put in so much hard work during practice and training. I think I can continue playing in India for at least 2-3 years and that is why I am not looking at the option of playing overseas right now.
Do you think with the kind of popularity your double-century knock has received, there are chances that you might attract some attention from IPL franchises?
Subodh: Let's wait and watch. There will be Mushtaq Ali (SMAT) before the auctions this year. I have performed in Mushtaq Ali (SMAT) before but I have not received bids. But yes, one should never lose hope as you never know what happens. Some people get rewards early, some people get late. It could be my time now.
Since you have spent a lot of time playing with Rishabh Pant in the same club (Sonnet Cricket Club), how has been your experience playing with him? Tell us something about how Pant was in the early days?
Subodh: When we used to play Under-19, Pant used to play Under-14. And he was exactly the same then, the way he plays now. From hitting sixes to playing unorthodox shots with a smile on his face, that has always been his style of playing cricket. When he used to play for Delhi, no one from our team told him to play in a certain way. He played very little Ranji as he took a huge leap towards international cricket very soon. And he is made for that level. All of us knew that he will play for India with the way he used to hit the ball. He was on another level. Talking about Ishant (Sharma) bhaiya, he has gone way beyond. Paying a Test match for India is a dream and he has played 100 Tests. I keep on talking with him regarding how to bowl and what to do. I have always enjoyed his company.
Rishabh Pant came under some scrutiny with the way he got dismissed during the WTC Final against New Zealand which resulted in India's collapse. Do you think the criticism Pant often receives about getting over-aggressive is justified?
Subodh: Not at all. One should not forget how he has reached that level. Pant has been dominating in recent times only because of his natural game. He came into the Indian team due to the way he used to play in IPL (for Delhi Capitals). He was just hitting a lot of runs in Australia then no one said anything. Then everyone said that he is just a great player who hit runs as soon as he gets in the middle. If people start criticizing him only after getting out in one match, this is wrong. This is not justified. You can't expect everything from one player.
Let's talk about MS Dhoni now. In your first season in Vijay Hazare Trophy, you got an opportunity to bowl in front of Dhoni and you bowled really well and received praise from MSD as well. Tell us something about that experience and how did it motivate you?
Subodh: It was a quarter-final match against Jharkhand in Vijay Hazare Trophy (in 2015). Mahi bhai was playing that match. Playing with him or against him has always been a dream. I still have a dream to play under his captaincy. I admire him a lot and whenever I need to take a decision in my personal life, I think what he (Dhoni) would have done in that situation. Talking about the match, I bowled all 10 overs in front of MS Dhoni in the same spell and ended up taking 4 wickets while conceding 21 runs. I was lucky to not get hit for runs as he was hitting everyone else for runs. It was always a dream and when he said, "well bowled, keep bowling like this," it was just incredible for someone like me who has always dreamt of playing with him and under his captaincy. I still remember that day and I also have the newspaper cutting of that match safely kept with me.
You also had a thought of leaving cricket at one point of time in your career? Why did that thought pop up and how did you manage to overcome that phase?
Subodh: I studied law when that doubt came in my mind. When there is a race happening and you are not part of a race, you try to be a part of that race. But if you are always coming 2nd, 3th or 4th, you start losing hope. I was a stand-by player for Delhi for three consecutive years at that time in Under-22 and Under-25. Players who came after me also got into the team but I remained on stand-by only. That is when that thought came that no matter what I do, I will remain on stand-by only. I used to take wickets in club matches and did whatever I could but still did not get selected. Then there was one time when I thought that this was it. I had almost left cricket but Tarak Sanha sir told my father to not let me quit playing cricket. This is when Gautam Wadhera bhaiya and Naresh Sharma bhaiya went out of the way to help me a lot. I kept performing and they got me further ahead. No one can match their contribution in my career. I had left cricket for 2-3 months and was at home. This is when Naman Sharma bhaiya took me from my home to Ghaziabad where I used to play club cricket. He said that they are there for him and we will see what happens next. These are the kind of people who remain forever with you.
The double-century has given you a certain platform to build upon. What will be your next step in your career?
Subodh: My next step will be to focus on my upcoming season. Something that I have always been doing, to perform better than last time. I have always had this goal of giving my best and performing my role for the side no matter if I get selected to play for India or not. I don't want to think about something which is not in my hands. What I can do is to perform well and hence I want to do better in the next season and then we will see what happens next. Firstly, let's do my job and then see what comes ahead.
If you get a chance to play in IPL, then which team and under whose captaincy will you want to play?
Subodh: I have always aspired to play in IPL. And not even just play, I want to dominate as I have always believed that I am made for it. Everyone in Delhi or wherever I go to play, say that I am a good white-ball player and my stats prove it. Hence, I believe that I should get an opportunity. Talking about the captains, I want to learn a lot from Virat Kohli and MS Dhoni. And I have spent a lot of time with MI (Mumbai Indians) and learnt a lot. Presently, I am with Rajasthan (Royals) as a backup player. I was there with them in Mumbai. But let's see, how it goes. But MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli are my favourites. I also believe that the kind of player I am, if I play under MS Dhoni, he can take me to the next level altogether.
Having played against MS Dhoni, is his captaincy the same in domestic cricket just like international cricket with a sense of calmness?
Subodh: Exactly the same. That is why I am such a big fan of him. More than his playing, he is amazing as a person. In 15-16 years of his career, there isn't any negative statement about him. Just like Sachin Tendulkar, there is no negative statement against him despite playing for 23 years. This is very big in itself. The media talks about everyone but no one ever said anything about them (Dhoni and Tendulkar). Winning and losing are there but these things show the character of the player. This is why his character, his thinking, the way he gets the players under him to perform. All players are good but he knows how to get the best out of every player, this is why I am a big fan of him.
Talking about the all-rounders, who do you think is the best in India?
Subodh: I think if Hardik (Pandya) starts bowling again, he is untouchable. With the way he bats and how he has improved his bowling, I don't think there is anyone even near to him right now. In domestic, there aren't any fast-bowling all-rounders who can be the highlight instantly. I haven't seen anything in recent times but talking about international cricket, it's Hardik and Ravindra Jadeja. In recent times, Jadeja has delivered some spectacular performances. Hardik has an issue with his bowling for some time but it will sort out in some days. I don't think there is anyone better than these two or anyone near to both of them.