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Playing under Pant and asking Rohit for tips – Avesh Khan’s IPL ride

Avesh Khan of Delhi Capitals
by Rohit Sankar 7 minute read

With 11 wickets in five matches, Avesh Khan has been the pick of the Delhi Capitals attack so far in this year’s IPL. In an exclusive conversation with Rohit Sankar, he reveals the work he’s done behind the scenes.

On 47 off 39 balls after 15 overs of a tricky run chase against Delhi Capitals on a sluggish Chepauk wicket in hot, humid conditions, you wouldn’t bet against Kane Williamson finding the sweet spot of the bat for the remainder of his innings.

But Avesh Khan, riding high on a brilliant spell in the powerplay – where he took the key wicket of Jonny Bairstow – kept Williamson in check, inducing false stroke after false stroke at the death.

For someone who came up through the ranks the hard way, Avesh’s improvement is remarkable. Like several players who have represented India’s under-19 side in recent years, Rahul Dravid has had a major influence on Avesh. After he went unsold in the 2016 IPL auction, Dravid told him: “10 lakh wala nahi, crore wala khiladi bano (become the player worth a crore, not ₹ 10 lakh).”

“I was disheartened that I wasn’t picked despite being the highest wicket-taker [for India] in the Under-19 World Cup that time,” Avesh tells Wisden.com. “I never told anyone I was disheartened. I kept that motivation inside me and was determined to do well. Since childhood, I never played cricket for money. I just loved the game, I played just for that passion. I still carry forward that love for cricket, because my coach told me that no matter how big a player you become, you should always have the same love for the game that you had in your under-16 days.”

With fast bowlers like Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav in their ranks, Delhi were expected to go to one of them to complement their overseas seamers. Instead, they’ve banked on Avesh from the beginning and the results have been fruitful.

“In the practice sessions, I was bowling well and Ricky [Ponting] even applauded me. Since then, I was mentally prepared to play the first game, though I knew we had senior players.”

Avesh has been stellar across different phases for Delhi this season. In the powerplay, he has picked up only two wickets but gone at under six runs an over. He has four wickets in the middle overs (over 7-15) and five at the death, where he has conceded runs at an economy rate of 8.78, the fourth-best for anyone to have bowled as many deliveries as he has done in the tournament so far.

“In practice, the coaches told me I would be bowling at the death, so I practised accordingly. It was clear that I’d be bowling more at the end, so I was mentally prepared. I focused on the yorkers and the slower ones before the IPL. I prepared before the IPL for bowling in any phase.”

The fast bowler has the backing of his head coach. Ponting was impressed with Avesh’s performances in the build-up to the season and made that clear when asked about him in a press conference earlier in the season. “He has been ultra-impressive, pretty much from the first day we arrived here for the training camp.” Ponting said. “Physically he looks a little bit better, he lost a little bit of weight from last season. He is definitely fitter and bowling faster. He is able to maintain his action better. His lines and lengths and slower-ball execution is excellent so far.”

The improved fitness is down to Avesh losing nearly five kilos with the help of a personal dietician. But, Avesh’s success so far has stemmed from work done on the cricketing front behind the scenes. Once an out-and-out fast bowler, Avesh has recognised the need to be versatile to find success in the IPL, which has led him to work on his yorkers and slower deliveries.

“In the net sessions, we always have discussions, where we are asked to give our opinions about different things. I talk to Ishant Sharma regularly about small improvements because every ball can turn around a game in the IPL. You can’t bowl loose balls.

“Last year, I asked Ishant about bowling the slower delivery, because the slower ball was not my biggest strength. This year, I have managed to deceive batters and get a few wickets with my slower ones as well. I always could bowl the faster balls, but I have improved the slow balls after talking to Ishant.”

If it’s Ishant off the field, it has been skipper Rishabh Pant – whose captaincy Avesh describes as “aggressive” – who has been guiding him on it with helpful advice from behind the stumps.

“[Pant] is a bowler’s captain – he keeps talking to his bowlers and asks about the fields that you want. If you are not successful in your plans, then he sets the fields and tells you where to bowl. He communicates well and what I really like is he keeps telling me where to bowl from behind the stumps. Before the over begins, we discuss how to bowl and what field to set, which gives me great clarification. This way no one is confused. His captaincy, overall, has been aggressive.”

Avesh appears a man for details and isn’t afraid to get some tips from his opponents either. While social media circulated pictures of him getting a signed jersey from Rohit Sharma, the reality is that he approached Rohit to gain feedback about his bowling while getting a jersey for his brother, a huge fan of the Mumbai Indians captain.

“I got the jersey signed by Rohit for my brother, as he is a big Rohit fan. These moments have been memorable – after a game you meet them and talk to them about your game and how you can improve. A batsman can tell you better, so I asked Rohit bhai how I can improve. He told me a couple of things and I will look to implement them going forward.”

With IPL victims such as Dhoni, Russell and Bairstow already in the bag, it might not be long before Avesh’s jerseys are the ones being autographed.

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