Kona Bharat: “Virat Kohli’s pep talk before the second ODI vs Australia in Rajkot motivated everyone and we won the series 2-1”
Andhra’s wicketkeeper-batsman K.S. Bharat (Kona Bharat) has been a fine performer in the India-A side for the last three years and in the Ranji Trophy for seven years.
But it was only during the historic pink-ball Test in Eden Gardens late last year, when his moment of fame arrived. The 26-year-old was called up to the team as a back-up for Wriddhiman Saha and as per tradition, was made to hold the trophy for the team picture after India won the game. It was after this picture that fans became acquainted with a young keeping prospect in the team that is not Rishabh Pant or Sanju Samson.
In this interview with Caught At Point, Kona Bharat takes us through his journey in cricket so far, and the role a few veteran cricketers have played in it. Here are a few excerpts.
Honestly, India doesn’t have enough quality wicketkeepers. By quality, I mean the standard that has been set by the likes of Dhoni and Saha. Why do you think India doesn’t have enough keepers?
Yes in terms of wicketkeeping the standard which has been set by Dhoni and Saha bhai are very high. When you see them play you see how they perform under pressure. If you follow their glovework or their batting or the way they express themselves in pressure situations you will see they are just class apart, even on a good turning track. Their wicketkeeping skills alone can give an edge to the team.
Wicketkeeping is such a skill where you have to practice day in and day out. There’s no short cut to success, especially in keeping because you have be thorough in all the departments be it skill or practical or technical.
How was your experience with the Indian team in the Eden Gardens dressing room? Tell us about whatever you learned from the team despite not being there in the XI. Or your experience in the squad for the ODIs against Australia.
Yes, it was a very good experience for me to share the dressing room with the current Indian team. India has some great ambassadors of the game, be it Virat Bhai or Rohit Bhai, Saha, Ashwin, Ajju (Ajinkya Rahane), or anyone. They really conduct themselves in a professional way and just by observing them you get to learn a lot – how to go about the game or how to respond to situations at the international level.
Playing in the nets before the game starts you get to explore a little more than what you get in the India A side. Being with the Test team is always a special feeling. And against Australia, it was a different experience compared to the Tests. The ODI intensity was much higher than the Tests because of various factors.
India were down by 1-0, it was a home series where there were only three games. Before the second ODI, Virat bhai addressed the team saying that this Indian team has the tendency to bounce back whenever they are put to a corner. That speech really motivated everyone in the hurdle. And it reflected in the game. We won the game and series.
After the pink-ball Test, Virat handed over the trophy to you as has been the tradition in the team for a while now. How was that feeling? To be holding the trophy for a historic win. Did Virat or Rohit tell you anything during the celebrations?
Yes after the pink-ball Test Virat bhai handed over the trophy to me. I was shocked because I didn’t expect it to come from him. I thought he was giving it to me and asking me to put it with the other trophy in front of us but he asked me to hold it for the team photo. The feeling was great. Rohit bhai was next to me and told me “This is your time. You’ve worked hard to be here so cherish this moment.” I have that picture framed in my house.
You’ve been playing for India A for quite a while now. What has been your biggest learning from Rahul Dravid while he was the coach?
Playing India A has helped me a lot. I have spent two and a half to three years with them and learned a lot of things in terms of challenges, mindset, technical or tactical awareness. You get to compete against nations which are the best Test sides. Even though it is an A team, they have good players and the competition is high.
Rahul sir’s contributions not only to me but everyone who has played India A has been immense. The way he addresses the meetings or the way he takes one-on-one with each player and explains to them the importance of competing at that level always helps. Rahul sir always tells us that it’s not just about scoring but testing ourselves under the circumstances thrown to us. He once told the whole team (when we were playing against Australia A in Bangalore) that the opponent has nine international players who will be playing against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi.
So this is the best chance to know that if you perform well against them you are more than half ready to play international cricket. This charged up everyone.
He always tells players to look at everything as an opportunity to know where they stand. These words sound simple but if you look at them in deep the answers are there in these little conversations with Rahul sir.
Not to forget, he also always told us that it is very important to realize that we are made up of some qualities and that is why we are playing at this level. That there are millions of people in India but only a few thousand get to play professional cricket. There are people who are more passionate and talented than us but could not make it to the India A team. So in that way he always made us believe in ourselves.
What are the different challenges you’ve faced while playing for India A in different countries?
There are quite a lot of challenges while playing India A. Not just India A but also First-Class cricket. Any sport you play is all about challenges. In any sport, there is not a single day when you go to play and you know what you are going to do. It’s all reacting to the situation.
Talking about challenges there are many – wicket behavior or climatic changes or the opponents, their strategies. Each country plays the sport in a different way – some attack us with bouncers or attack us with attacking fields where they want you to get out or want you to commit mistakes. Every game is special in terms of learning and introspection. At the end of the day, it is more important to win tournaments and play the best cricket. Winning isn’t everything but the intent to win is what we look for while playing.
How did wicketkeeping happen to you? Were you always keen on becoming a keeper-batsman?
Wicketkeeping happened to me when I was 11 years old. That was when I donned the gloves for the first time. I loved keeping as a kid. I personally worked a lot on my keeping during my Under 13s but didn’t get the opportunity to keep wickets in a state game till I was 17. So for four to five years I just had to practice in the nets day in and day out. My first game as a keeper in a state game was against Hyderabad in Hyderabad. I picked up seven victims in one innings so I felt there was some opportunity for me in keeping.
I always enjoyed collecting the ball. That’s how my keeping journey started and after that, I always wanted to be a keeper-batsman. It’s a healthy challenge between my keeping and batting which I enjoy.
2014/15 was your breakthrough Ranji season, in which you scored 758 runs at an average of 54.11. And after that Delhi Daredevils signed you. Tell us about what you learned from Gary Kirsten back then.
Yes, I had a very good season in 2014 where I scored 758 runs at an average of 55 including a triple century, after which Delhi picked me in the IPL. It was a good season. Gary Kirsten sir was always there at the nets throwing balls hours and hours to all the players and I always had a good hit in the nets. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any game but I used to be prepared for any possible opportunity. Kirsten sir always helped us believe in ourselves and told us that if we weren’t good enough we wouldn’t be at that level.
What has your training schedule been like during the lockdown? Tell us about how a keeper’s training is different from a bowler or batsman’s training? How are you managing to do it at home?
A keeper’s training is different from a bowler or a batsman’s training. As a keeper, you have to do drills that are specific to keeping. The dynamics are different for everyone. Everyone has different schedules and movements and exercises. It is all specific.
I do one and a half hours of training every day which includes strength and core training and training specific to batting and keeping. And for an hour I do shadow practice. I stand in front of the mirror and I pick up my bat and visualize how I want to play when cricket resumes. I am keeping myself prepared both mentally and physically.
As a cricketer, I always believe that work ethics are very important. From eating, drinking, and sleeping in the right amounts to proper conversations with the right people, everything is very important. These little things give you a head start.
During this lockdown, I keep reading and try to understand myself better. I try to introspect myself and tell myself about the areas I need to work on. If there is an urge to be a better person or player nothing can stop you.
Nobody knows when the coronavirus situation will improve. Some say that we might not see any cricket happen until 2021. If the 2020-21 domestic season is scrapped, how will it affect the players’ performances? How difficult will it be to get back into rhythm after such a long period of time?
No one knows when the Coronavirus situation will improve but with precautions, life will get back to normal sooner or later. Talking about cricket, nobody can say when we will take to the field but we are all respecting the decision. Right now it is hard to think about cricket. Patience is the only key. As of now, it is important for any sportsperson to look after their bodies and live in the present. It’s a very good opportunity to be with our families and learn new skills.
It is difficult because you don’t get to do your normal routine. Sports challenge you and demand that you bounce back. And this situation is the same – challenging but we will have to bounce back.
The safety of the people comes first but being a professional sportsperson it is difficult to be in this situation. However, if this is what the situation demands we have to adapt it.
You have a video on Instagram where you’re playing in the nets alongside Wriddhiman Saha. What advice did you seek from him and how helpful was it?
Whenever I am with India and India A team Saha bhai is one of my favorite persons to approach. He is such a sweet, hardworking, and simple human being and always wears a smile on his face. We talk a lot about keeping. I ask him a lot of questions about the challenges we will face when we play for India and about the challenges which come with changes in countries and pitches. He keeps giving me inputs and grooms me. Whenever he is around I just grab my gloves and go and stand beside him and watch him closely. He has helped me from day one of my career.
If you ever get a chance to meet MS Dhoni, what would you ask him about wicketkeeping?
If I get to meet Dhoni Bhai I will have a lot to ask him. I would want to know how he handles himself under pressure and about his mindset in tough situations. To be fit for international cricket for more than a decade is remarkable. I’d like to know how he maintains himself, his fitness routine. I wouldn’t hesitate to ask even silly things because you never know what you can learn even in the little conversations.
Regarding keeping I’d like to ask him how he reads the batsmen from behind the stumps. How does he get to know when is a batsman likely to step out of the crease? His game awareness as we all know is extraordinary.