During India’s Under-19 World Cup run in the first quarter of 2016, Ishan Kishan found that the runs had suddenly deserted him. There was a failure in the warm-up game against Pakistan and the first two of three league matches yielded four runs.
How was he dealing with it? “How did I deal with it… deal kar kahan paya! [I couldn’t really deal with it]. All that goes through your mind then is that ‘You are not even studying. You are not doing anything. All you can do is play cricket well, and you are not doing that too.’ Lots of negative thoughts come to your mind at that point.”
And then Jaggi received a phone call. The first words the voice at the other end said were, “Why haven’t you called me?”
An embarrassed Kishan admitted that he had been too down on himself and didn’t know what to say. Words of support came through and Kishan felt a lot better. The next day, against Nepal, Kishan made 52 off 40 balls – his only significant innings in a tournament that brought 73 runs in six visits to the crease.
I know what you’re thinking but no, that call was not from a girlfriend. Ishank Jaggi, the man at the other end of the phone, is in many ways though, a ‘significant other’.
It’s been one of those cricketing friendships that are struck instantly, a bond formed that only brothers in arms understand. Jaggi, soon to be 28, is elder brother, friend, guide, coach and mentor all rolled into one. Kishan, all of 18 still, is the young spark whose talent was recognised and taken under wing. One is a wicketkeeper, the other stands in the slips. They even bat next to each other. Naturally, they room together on tour.
In Ranji Trophy 2016-17, they’ve racked up individual tallies of 890 runs for Jaggi and 799 for Kishan, the highest for Jharkhand. Along the way, there have been some important partnerships. Against Delhi, they put on 116 for the fifth wicket from 80 for 4. There was a tour de force against Saurashtra, with 153 runs put on at quicker than a run-a-ball on a day Jharkhand clattered 429 runs in 87 overs, with both men hitting centuries. Then 38 off 33 in a fourth-innings chase against Assam that eased nerves. And finally, an exhilarating 92 off 106 balls in the semifinal against Gujarat.
During Jharkhand’s semifinal against Gujarat in this Ranji Trophy season in Nagpur, the duo sat down with Wisden India to discuss life, banter, cricket and everything in between. And there was rather more laughter than can be included in these excerpts:
Q: You are room-mates, you stand next to each other on the field, you bat together. How did this bond develop?
Jaggi: It was three years ago, and we were playing a district match against each other. You know sometimes it happens that you see a player and you feel that he is really talented. It’s a good thing he’s been doing very well. Actually I feel proud of myself as well because I saw him at a very early stage that he had the talent!
Q: This off-field bond helps in the on-field partnership?
Kishan: You answer.
Jaggi (smiles): I think it’s helped him more. Most of the time I was a sort of coach when we were batting together. The thing is, if I’m telling him something, he trusts me. He trusts my instinct, or my wisdom or whatever you want to call it. And even I like it when he applies it and gets good results. In a couple of games he got out early, I scolded him saying ‘You have to fight for runs’. He then got a very big one against Karnataka (159*). He used to relax initially, but he’s the kind of player who once he gets 20 or so, and passes that struggling phase, he’s very dangerous. He can play any shot, anywhere, to any bowler.
Q: But isn’t a teenager allowed to get restless? Is the growing up aspect of just having ‘fun’ missing then?
Kishan: I can have fun after batting. There is no need to have fun while batting. With me I can do anything I want before batting (laughter, as Jaggi nods, ‘He doesn’t miss out on fun’).
Jaggi: When you’re getting runs, that’s the most important thing for a batsman. If you get restless and get out, you’ll repent later. I have been through this age and missed a few opportunities in which I could score a big hundred. And that was because I was complacent, ‘Yeah, I’m getting runs.’ What I want to make him believe is that when you’re among the runs, grab it with both hands.
And the thing is, once he gets into the groove he’s actually playing with the bowlers. He’s actually having fun. After the day’s play is over, we all have fun together. We’re playing PlayStation, going out for a movie, partying. We enjoy ourselves, which is also a very important thing for a player – to switch off from the game. He does that quite well, that I know!
Q: On the field, what’s your favourite partnership together?
Both: Against Saurashtra.
Jaggi: I was batting on 45 and Saurabh (Tiwary) was there with me on 46. During the lunch break I went to my coach and said I believe I can hit them and build a good lead quickly. He said, ‘If you feel you can hit, then go all out’. So I started hitting and it was going well. I was on 85 when this guy came in. From 85 to 100, it took me some time – and this guy reached 65!
Just before tea, the last over, I came up to him and said, ‘Dekh, chhe ball hain. Defence karna hai. Agar nahin karega, to phir dekhna.’ [Look there are only six balls left. You need to defend them. If you don’t, see what I’ll do!]
Kishan (laughing): Yes, he said he wouldn’t give me any more tips and ideas about batting!
Jaggi: Those were the only six balls you defended.
Kishan: But there too, twice I pleaded with you to let me hit it…
Jaggi: We both hit centuries in that match. And it was a seaming track (at Maharaja Bir Bikram College Stadium in Agartala) but we got about 430 runs in the day.
Kishan: When I went to bat, a left-arm spinner [Dharmendrasinh Jadeja] was bowling. I think the field setting was also very bad! So I started hitting and I was confident. Even if I had gotten out, he (Jaggi) was batting on 75 or so.
Kishan’s favourite knock though is the 273 he made against Delhi this season, in an innings where the next highest score for Jharkhand was Jaggi’s 55.
Q: Your 273 made the difference in the game… [Jharkhand got the first-innings lead and three points]
Jaggi: It did.
Kishan: The best part of that was again that when I went to bat, it was him at the non-striker’s end. At the start I was struggling a lot. He told me again to stay till I get to about 20. He was talking to me every over. After that when he got out, I had about 30-odd, so I was set. I knew that now I had to play some shots to get some runs, so I started hitting. It was just one of those days when you connect every ball.
Q: What about on the field? You guys are next to each other, what’s the banter like?
Jaggi: We have a lot of topics to speak about on the field…
Kishan (quickly): Can’t share.
(Laughter all round)
Kishan: If any of it gets recorded, it will mean trouble.
Jaggi: It just keeps the momentum going when we are not having a good time on the field. It’s just between us, not aimed at the batsman. It’s something which needs to be done when things are not going in your favour, to keep spirits up.
Q: You have both had great seasons, and your team has reached the semifinal for the first time. What is different about this Jharkhand team?
Kishan: Is one-word answer good enough? Good fitness levels. Good team bonding. We care for each other.
Jaggi: That’s the same as bonding. Nayi cheez bol. (Say something new).
[Turns out, there’s no need for Kishan to search for the right answer because Jaggi has given this a lot of thought]
Jaggi: Last year, we got our coach Rajiv Kumar Raja. He’s an ex-Bihar player. One of the most consistent guys, as a pure batsman, that Jharkhand or Bihar have ever seen. He was coaching these guys (Kishan, Virat Singh, Kaushal Singh and some others) at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels.
I’ll tell you honestly, this team is what it is today because that guy put in a lot of effort with these guys at those age-group levels. That was the foundation. When these guys came to Ranji Trophy, they were almost 60-70% ready in terms of fitness, mindset and professionalism. We got to know all this when we were 24, when we played in the IPL. These guys were already prepared.
Raja bhaiya wanted us to perform as a team, not as individuals. As individuals we had great performances. Take Saurabh, Nadeem, myself, or anyone who has been in the circuit for a long time. But as a team, in the Ranji matches, we were far behind. We weren’t getting respect in the domestic circuit. He changed that mindset and that belief.
When you play a rash shot and get out, he would come up and just say, ‘Thoda delay kar sakta tha’ [You could have perhaps delayed that shot a bit]. So you start trusting that guy, you think, ‘Even if I do something wrong, or get out at a bad time, he won’t scold or blame me.’ That trust started building a lot for us last year, and we qualified in all three formats for the knockouts.
For me as a batsman or player, he changed me a lot. He started realising what I can do. I wasn’t a slip fielder initially. I used to field in the circle at cover or midwicket. He made me realise I can be a good slip fielder and I started off last year.
Kishan then tells his own tale of the coach’s support, using the example of how he was sent in as the opener in Jharkhand’s quarterfinal against Haryana in the fourth innings, and smashed 86 off 61.
Kishan: Jaggi bhaiyya and Sunny Gupta told me to open. I was hesitant at first but they were sure I could change the game if I opened. Raja sir also asked me if I’m comfortable with it. He didn’t ask me why I’m opening, he just said ‘If you are confident, you are opening.’ That’s the best part, he supports us a lot. Whenever we make a mistake he never says, ‘You guys made a mistake’. He says ‘It is my fault’.
Both players have developed the perfect balance in the on-field and off-field friendship. They each give the other his space. They are there when one needs support. They have each others’ backs. About the only thing they won’t do too much of is go up in PlayStation against each other. Kishan is having none of that.
Q: Who is the best at PlayStation?
Jaggi: No one can give me any competition.
Kishan: I’ve stopped playing with him. I build up my confidence against others and then it crashes. If I’m playing with Pratyush (Singh), I’ll win a couple, he’ll win a couple. With him (Jaggi), I am suddenly eight goals down.
Q: But how can a teenager let a non-teenager beat him at PlayStation? You have to keep the teenage flag flying…
Jaggi: He’s doing that, don’t worry about that (laughter all round). In PlayStation he doesn’t yet have that experience.
Kishan: He (Jaggi) knows all the moves.
Jaggi: I’ve been playing for the past 15 years.
Their Ranji campaign may have ended in heartbreak because Jharkhand truly believe they had the wherewithal this season to go all the way. But even in the aftermath of defeat, there was a new glint in the eye, and the promise of ‘next year’. And next year too, the Jaggi-Kishan jugalbandi will have to be the middle-order engine that powers the team ahead.