LB Shastri academy is a busy place where young players are sweating out in the nets, improving their game ball by ball, day by day.

On the other side of the field, there is another bunch of boys who are practising fielding drills and there is a man Sanjay Bhardwaj, the coach of the academy, who is keeping a keen eye on both the sides. In between, he is passing instructions to the players as well.

LB Shastri academy, is one of the prestigious academies in Delhi, which has produced star Indian players like Gautam Gambhir, Amit Mishra, Unmukt Chand is now in limelight as we might see three more players become next big thing in Indian cricket as Nitish Rana is shining with his performances in IPL 2017 whereas Navdeep Saini and Kulwant Khejroliya have already made it to India A.

Here, the coach has the main emphasis on improving the game of a player rather than just having an eye for making it to state-side, which has been the success mantra of all the players who have played here.

Sportzwiki caught up with Mr Sanjay Bhardwaj and had a talk with him regarding performances of all these players, especially Gautam Gambhir, whom everyone expected to make it to the Indian team for the Champions Trophy.

Here are some excerpts from the interview –

Q.1 Were you expecting a national call-up for Gautam Gambhir for the Champions Trophy?

A.1 Looking at his current performance and also the need of an experienced batsman in the line-up, yes, I was expecting the selection of Gautam Gambhir in the side.

Q.2 Was it disappointing for you that Gambhir has not been given a chance for the title defence?

A.2 I cannot call it as a disappointment because as a player, your job is to perform, score runs and selection matters are not in your hands. It is the job of the selection committee. As a player, your job is to play good cricket and that Gautam has done and it is nothing to be disappointed about. No matter wherever he plays, the sole aim of Gautam is to play good cricket.

Q.3 The race for the opening slot was directly between Gautam Gambhir and Shikhar Dhawan and looking at Dhawan’s form in past few months (in international cricket), the race was open. So according to you, who was the deserving candidate between Gambhir and Dhawan?

A.3 It’s the job of the selection committee to decide that who is best suited for the job. Probably they would have found Dhawan better. Probably Gambhir wasn’t fitting in team management plans.

Q.4 Gambhir made a comeback last year in Test cricket but only got a chance after Dhawan was injured. So do you think that the selection committee is looking beyond Gautam Gambhir for some new faces probably?

A.4 Probably the selection committee is eyeing 2019 World Cup and looking forward to making their own team. Again, it’s the plan of committee and selectors to choose a player.

Q.5 Have selectors now written off any chances of a comeback for Gautam Gambhir?

A.5 See whether he played at Under 14 level or under 16 level, Gautam has never ever been disappointed regarding all such things. His sole aim has been to perform well whether he is playing for his club, franchise or office cricket. He is always vying to perform well at all stages and has done quite well.

Q.6 Coming to IPL, Kolkata Knight Riders is performing quite well under Gambhir’s captaincy. So do you think that they will win the cup for the third time?

A.6 Yes, the team is in good form and I am hopeful that they will succeed in their aim.

Q.7 Are you still hoping for a comeback of Gautam Gambhir in international cricket?

A.7  Till the date you have the bat in your hand, you are in the race of being selected in the Indian team and the day just pull your weapon down, it ends of the road for you. It all depends upon your efforts.

Q.8 Last year during Duleep Trophy, we saw Gautam batting with a totally different stance. Wide open but soon he was back in his original stance. Did you have any role in this decision of Gambhir?

A.8 The change that he brought about in his batting was to see the side of the ball, to have a clear view of the delivery. It was his own decision to experiment this so as to have a better vision of the ball. The aim behind this was to play well. It was his personal decision to make a slight change.

Q.9 Coming to Nitish Rana. Before IPL, he was a bit let down as he did not have a great domestic season. He got dropped from the Vijay Hazare Trophy squad. What was your message to him before he was going to play IPL as he was not in a good form at that point of time?

A.9 Nitish is a player who always tries to perform well wherever he plays. Yes, he was dropped from the side but before going to IPL, he had decided that he will score runs in the tournament and was looking to continue his IPL form as he performed well in those four games which he played last year.

Q.10 Rohit Sharma has left his number three spot for Nitish. Would it have been a big confidence booster for him?

A.10 If you are in Mumbai Indians squad which includes likes of Mahela Jayawardene and Sachin Tendulkar, you learn a lot which raises your level of cricket. Nitish has improved himself in that camp and has grasped all the new techniques to increase the level of his game. He has proved himself in front of coaches and coaches as well have shown faith in him.

Q.11 The way Nitish performed in the first half of the tournament, there were talks on social media that he is a great player and should be brought in the Indian team right away. Do you think that he felt a bit of pressure which has also affected his form as we have seen that his performance has dipped down a bit?

A.11 Yes he performed quite well in the starting days and cricket is a game where ability does not matter. On a given day, a player can even score a century and on the very next day, he can have a bad day. Taking the example of Delhi Daredevils, on one day, they chased 208 against Gujarat Lions and in the very next game, they were bundled out on 66. So in this game, ability does not matter and it is the performance on that given day that matters the most.

Q.12 What are his chances of being selected for India A squad which heads to South Africa next month?

A.12 Yes. Surely the selectors and team management would like to groom player like Nitish and he will get a chance there. He is performing well and I am hoping that he will be getting a chance there.

Q.13 Coming to Amit Mishra, his ODI debut came in the year 2003 but till now, he has only played 36 ODIs and just 22 Test matches. So what has been the main reason behind him not getting enough chances?

A.13 There is huge competition in Indian cricket and Amit is one of the best bowlers. Anil Kumble even left his place in the team for Mishra where he scalped a fifer. Amit is a great leg-spinner. He has variation and that natural spin. He is giving his best at every stage.

Q.14 He was awarded the Man of the series award in the ODI series against New Zealand and then the very next series, he did not even get a game. How he takes such disappointments?

A.14 Again, the selection is not in our hands and it’s the selection committee which has to decide. As a player, your job is to perform to the best of your abilities and chances will come. You don’t have to play cricket for being selected in the team, your aim should be to do well.

Q.15 So what is your message to him as he missed out on selection?

A.15 From childhood, I teach every kid that you have to perform well at each and every stage. If you are playing cricket for selection in Under 16 or Under 19 team, then you won’t be able to do it. Your aim should be to do well, no matter the stage.

Q.16 Coming to Unmukt Chand now, the season has not been a good one for him. He got dropped from the side and then went unsold in IPL action as well. Though he was recalled to the Delhi state-side but till then the auction was done and dusted. What your message to him at that point of time?

A.17 He is a hard working guy. We don’t have to teach him as he did self-introspection that why he was dropped from the team?

He came up with strong performances when he made a comeback winning two back to back Man of the Match awards. He went to Bangladesh and is now in England. He is a player who analyses himself and then comes up with things that are to be done. He is quite matured mentally and I think that if you have to take a long jump, then you have taken two steps back. He is now again on task and is working on his game.

Q.18 Yes but you think that with each passing day, the competition level is rising to another level with the presence of players like Rishabh Pant, Sanju Samson and Shreyas Iyer, who have already made it to the Indian team? Also, his age as there are many more youngsters in the fray?

A.18 No, he is just 24. I would like to mention that there is a period between the age of 26 to 32, which is also the golden period for a player where he performs well due to the increased maturity level. Probably, Unmukt has learnt a lot due to all what he has seen in his career and he will do well in future.

Q.19 When a player travels to different countries to play cricket, I am talking of Unmukt, he went to Bangladesh and is now in England. So what sort of difference do you find when they return from these tours. What all they learn from the tours especially after playing in a country like England?

A.19 You don’t learn there. You have to perform there. You learn from performances in these kinds of assignments and when you perform well there, then you learn a lot. It teaches you a lesson and builds up your confidence.

Q.20 Talking of your other two students – Kulwant Khejroiya (India A, Mumbai Indians, Delhi) and Navdeep Saini (India A, Delhi Daredevils, Delhi); they haven’t got chances in this IPL but as a coach, what do you think, how these stints will benefit them?

A.20 Both are a part of the best of the teams and the environment in these teams teaches you discipline. This discipline helps a player to grow day by day and the environment of the team helps a player to grow. So naturally, when they will come back from that environment, they would be an improved player and would have learnt from that stints. The days spent with experts of the game would have raised their confidence, which will help them in improving their game.

Q.21 Sir coming back to Gautam Gambhir, there is a buzz on social media that bring back Gautam Gambhir. So what is your reaction when you see all this?

A.21 Of course, Gautam Gambhir is a good player and has a huge fan following. His fans as well want him to play for the country again. He is also doing his best.

Whether it is AmitMishra, Unmukt Chand or Nitish Rana, we have developed a culture here where we teach our students to perform right from the start. Here we teach that selection should not be the sole aim of a player because when you have the selection in your mind, it leads to fear of failure, which puts pressure on you. You have to raise your level of the game day by day, it should be the aim of a player.

Q.22 To conclude, what we have been Gautam Gambhir doing for soldiers of our country is great. What have you to say on this?

A.22 He does it for everyone. He is a great human being. He likes to help each and every person whether it is a player or someone else. He is a very kind person and loves to help everyone.

    Sports lover and a Cricket fanatic.

    Read More