Saini knew that Pant, who was smashing the Australia bowling attack all over the park with ease, will easily pull it off. And, Pant did the job in his own style, clinching the win with a boundary off pacer Josh Hazlewood to seal a 2-1 series win for India.
Saini, in an exclusive interview with Timesofindia.com, revealed the conversation he had with Pant before the wicketkeeper-batsman helped India breach the Gabba fortress and win their second Border-Gavaskar title in a row.
“It was the first time that I was batting alongside Rishabh. It was so much fun. I knew he will take India to the win. When I went to the crease, I looked at Rishabh and asked ‘kya karna hai’? (What do I have to do?). Rishabh said ‘kuch nahi karna, bass tej bhagna, jab bolunga, risky run mat lena (Just run when I say and don’t take a risky run). He (Pant) went back to his crease and then came back again and told me ‘don’t worry, mai dekh lunga’ (Don’t worry, I will handle it’,” Saini told Timesofindia.com.
Saini was nursing a groin injury at the time. But thankfully he didn’t have to stay out in the middle too long. He didn’t face a single delivery and was at the crease for just 3 minutes.
“When he (Pant) hit the winning runs, he shouted ‘run’. I knew he had asked me to run as fast as possible. I didn’t look at where the ball had gone and started running. When he stopped to celebrate, then I realised we had won (laughs). I knew he was going to hammer the bowler,” Saini told TimesofIndia.com.
Pant scored an unbeaten knock of 89 runs off 138 balls in the fourth innings of the Gabba Test, including nine fours and one six. For his match-winning show, the youngster was adjudged Man of the Match.
Pant also signed off the series as the highest run-getter for India, scoring 274 runs in 3 matches (5 innings) at an average of 68.50.
Though he was criticised by some for his wicket-keeping skills earlier , his two knocks (97 in Sydney and 89* in Brisbane) has made even in staunchest critics realise what a game changer he can be with the bat.
“He (Pant) is so hard working. He is a mentally strong player. He loves to play in crunch situations. Give him any condition and situation, he is mentally strong. That is his best quality,” the Indian pacer who played the Sydney and Brisbane Tests further said.
SHASTRI AND RAHANE’S MOTIVATIONAL SPEECHES
India had already lost all their first-choice picks in the pace department to injury. Ishant Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar didn’t travel with the team to Australia. Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav, and Jasprit Bumrah were all injured during different stages of the tour.
WATCH – Exclusive: Head Coach @RaviShastriOfc delivers a dressing room speech at Gabba.A special series win in Au… https://t.co/UWM65wPROL
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1611070085000
Going into the crucial Brisbane Test, India had Saini, Shardul Thakur, both one Test old, Mohammed Siraj and T Natarajan, who was making his Test debut.
But Saini was confident of the injury-ravaged Indian team’s good show in the crucial Test match and the lanky pace bowler credited his captain Ajinkya Rahane and coach Ravi Shastri‘s motivational speeches a day before the Brisbane Test for instilling the team with confidence.
As we draw curtains on our historic triumph and start our preparations for the home series, here’s Captain… https://t.co/CSs5M2m5ib
— BCCI (@BCCI) 1611400713000
“We were all prepared to take on responsibilities. Ravi sir told us all to prepare, saying ‘your turn can come at any time’. He used to watch us closely in the nets. We all used to prepare at the same time and for the same duration and with the same intensity (as the first choice picks). Ravi sir used to take us through different and tough conditions and asked us to practice accordingly. So, we were all prepared. Ravi sir spoke to me ahead of the Brisbane Test and gave me confidence and said ‘don’t experiment, just bowl the way you have been bowling. Just be mentally strong. You are the best’,” Saini revealed.
“Ajinkya bhaiya came to me and said ‘jaisa domestic mein daalta hai, jaisa nets mein daalta hai waise hi karna.’ (Don’t experiment or change anything. Bowl the way you’ve been bowling in domestic cricket and in the nets),” Saini, who took 4 wickets in the two Tests he has played so far said.
SHAMI, UMESH AND BUMRAH’S ROLE
During the net sessions in Australia, Saini learnt a lot from his fast bowling seniors – Shami, Bumrah and Umesh.
In fact, Bumrah, who was ruled out of the Brisbane Test after suffering an abdominal strain while fielding in the Sydney Test, was continuously giving tips to Saini and making him feel confident at the Gabba.
“The top most thing that helped me on this tour was practice and net sessions. I didn’t miss a single net session on this tour. Discussing with seniors Shami bhaiya and Umesh bhaiya helped me a lot. Apart from them, I used to discuss with Jassi (Jasprit Bumrah) also. Shami bhaiya said this kind of situation may come (where Saini might have to play). He is an experienced pacer and has played a good amount of cricket in Australia. So, he is aware of everything. He asked me to put myself in such a situation when no senior is there and the responsibility is on my shoulders – what will I do? He asked me to be prepared for everything,” Saini further told TimesofIndia.com.
“When I was playing the Brisbane Test, Jassi (Bumrah) used to come during the drinks breaks and give some tips. Ravi sir also supported me a lot. During the match, Shardul, Siraj, Natarajan, and I were discussing the plans and the best part was that we were on the same page. We were backing each other. I have played a decent amount of domestic cricket and that experience also worked for me. I just kept things simple, stuck to my basics, and worked on my strengths,” the 28 year old from Karnal said.
Saini bowled a total of 251 balls in 4 innings in Australia, giving away 172 runs and taking 4 wickets. His best bowling figures in an innings was 2/54.
“I had done a lot of hard work for this tour. When your hard work pays off in the end, it gives you a lot of confidence and happiness. We all gave our 100 percent. We wanted to win the series. That was the ultimate thing. I know injuries happen and that they are part and parcel of this game but all we wanted to win the series. I never had this kind of experience. I will cherish this win forever,” Saini, who was recently retained by the Royal Challengers Bangalore ahead of the 2021 season of the IPL further said.
PLAYING UNDER RAHANE AND ENGLAND SERIES
This was the first time Saini was playing under Ajinkya Rahane’s captaincy. Under Virat Kohli, Saini has played for India in limited-overs (ODIs and T20Is) and at Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
He feels both Rahane and Kohli are good decision-makers.
“I have played under Virat bhaiya for India and RCB as well. Now I have played under Ajinkya bhaiya. I have enjoyed a lot playing under both the captains. The best part about them is that they are both really good decision-makers. They take decisions on the spot and those work for the team,” he said.
Saini has been struggling with a groin injury and is not part of the first two Tests against England at home. The series vs England begins on February 5. The first two Tests will be played in Chennai
“I am going to NCA right now. I hope that I make it to the rest of the two Tests against England. The Australia series gave me a lot of confidence and helped me mature as a bowler and a player. I want to perform the same way in the upcoming series,” Saini signed off.