Soon after his decimation of Bengal in the Ranji Trophy semi-final, Delhi pacer Navdeep Saini said he owes his "life and success" to former India opener Gautam Gambhir. The young speedster bowled one of the most devastating spells of recent times in Indian domestic cricket as Delhi humiliated Bengal by an innings and 26 runs to enter the Ranji Trophy final. "I owe this life and my success to Gautam Gambhir. I was a nobody and Gautam bhaiya did everything for me," Saini said on Tuesday.
Saini was full of gratitude for the veteran opener who gave him chance in first-class cricket.
The pacer was supposed to go to South Africa as a net bowler, but Ankit Rajpoot of UP is being sent instead.
"I was happy that I would go to South Africa but I called up Gautam bhaiya. He said Delhi needs you now for the semi-final and if you do well, you will be automatically in that Indian dressing room. I didn't think twice," said Saini.
After taking Delhi to the Ranji Trophy final with a career-best match haul of 7 for 79 against Bengal, the 25-year spoke about his life, bowling and a proud grandfather, who was part of the Azad Hind Fauj.
It was during the 2013-14 season that former Delhi cricketer Sumit Narwal saw a wiry-looking boy from Karnal bowling yorkers at will in a tennis ball tournament.
Saini was being paid Rs 200 per match and Narwal immediately called up Delhi captain Gambhir to check him out at the nets.
What Gambhir saw at the nets was enough for him to get into a heated argument with then DDCA vice-president Chetan Chauhan, to get the player from Haryana into the Delhi team.
"Gautam bhaiya, Ashish bhaiya (Nehra), Mithun Manhas rallied around me. They said what's happening in the periphery shouldn't be my concern. We will take care of that, you only bowl," he said, recalling the time when DDCA officials were distributing pamphlets to keep him out of the team.
Terming the outing against Bengal his best performance, Saini said his time with India A has been a turnaround of sorts, and he is more aware of his skills now.
"I can't build on muscles as I will lose out on the pace I generate due to my quick hand speed. This is my USP from start. Since I could bowl fuller deliveries with the tennis ball, it helps with the leather ball as it generates extra pace," Saini explained.
Coming from a humble background, Saini, son of a former Haryana government driver, has his feet firmly rooted to the ground after 29 first-class games and an IPL contract with Delhi Daredevils.
"It was difficult in the beginning but now things have changed a bit. I stay with my friends in a rented accommodation in Kotla Mubarakpur. I still go back home by Volvo bus. I haven't bought a car," he said.
His grandfather, Karam Singh, was a driver in Subhas Chandra Bose's Azad Hind Fauj.
"Dadaji is nearly 100 years. He was in Japan with Netaji. I have heard stories so many times that at times, I slip away," he said cheekily.
"But he loves me and is aware when my match is coming on television. Today he watched me bowl," he said.
(With PTI Inputs)