Udaipur born Ashok Menaria is among some of the few young players who are seen as future stars of Indian cricket. A natural hitter, Ashok captained India in the 2010 at Under-19 World Cup. He also helped Rajasthan win the Ranji Trophy last season.
Despite coming straight from an injury lay-off, Ashok scored a fantastic century in the quarter-final against the mighty Mumbai. He then went on to slam centuries in the semi-final and the final. His second innings hundred in the final on a difficult pitch against Baroda helped Rajasthan lift the trophy after a long long time.
The fairytale performance also helped him secure a contract from the IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals where he did well, earning the faith and affection of captain Shane Warne.
The IPL, according to him, gave him the faith that one needs to become successful in international cricket. Then came the opportunity of representing India in the Emerging Players tournament in Australia, a tournament that can open the door of international cricket for him.
Zeecric.com’s Biswajit Jha caught up with the lanky batsman at Rajasthan Cricket Academy where he talked about his cricket, his future dreams and the attitude of the new generation towards the game.
You have been selected in the Indian squad in the Emerging Players Tournament in Australia. What do you expect from the tour?
It’s been the best opportunity for me so far. I represented India in the Under-19 team and now I will play for India A. I think it is a golden opportunity for me. If I score runs here, I have a very good chance of making it to the Indian team in the near future.
What’s your immediate target?
It’s runs that matter. Whatever chance I get, I must score. You have to follow a process to get a place in the Indian team. My job is to do all the hard work and become successful…to score runs and to take wickets. Once you do these things right, your target gets fulfilled.
Do you think that you are in the right track so far?
So far, I think I am on the right path. However, the Australian tour will decide whether I am in the right track or not.
You were seriously injured during the last Ranji season which prevented you from playing in the group matches. What’s the latest status of your injury?
Now I am absolutely fine. I have been playing rigorous cricket for last six or seven months.
What’s your strength as a batsman?
I am an aggressive batsman. I have a range of strokes and I like to play them all round the wickets.
Have you been a natural stroke maker from your childhood days?
Yes, I play strokes from the time I started playing cricket.
You are a hard-hitting batsman. But the problem with the kind of batsman that you are is that they are pigeonholed as shorter version players, those who are not suited for Tests. Do you think that the perception can jeopardize your Test career?
I don’t think so. If you perform, if you make runs, no matter what the formats are, you play for your country. Take the example of Virender Sehwag. He plays aggressive cricket irrespective of the formats of the game. And he is successful in all the forms of the game. At the end of the day, it’s your performance that counts.
What about your bowling, since you are also an occasional left-arm spinner?
I have been working very hard from the time I overcame my injury. My bowling has really improved after the IPL season. Rajasthan Royals captain Shane Warne asked me to take my bowling seriously.
How do you see yourself, as a batsman who can bowl or as an allrounder?
I want to become a batting allrounder.
What’s your preferred batting position?
I like number four position. This is the place I have been playing since my childhood. Having said that, I can bat anywhere, according to the demand of the team.
When you thought that you would take cricket as a profession?
I started playing cricket since 2000. But I never took it seriously though I played for Rajasthan at Under 17 level. Once I scored a double hundred at that echelon. That changed my thinking. I realized that I could be a successful cricketer. Actually the double ton gave me the confidence to take cricket seriously.
You are from Udaipur which does not have a rich cricket history. How difficult was it for you to reach so far?
Once I scored that double ton, I really started working hard. I started working on other aspects of my game. Then my coach Bharat Choudhury and my parents were really helpful. My parents used to drop me to the coaching centre. They did it for six-seven years. It was not an easy task but they sacrificed a lot for me.
Which is the most important tournament of your life so far?
The last IPL was really turning point of my career. It was for the first time that I was playing in the tournament. It was a dream comes true for me. It was really a great experience…to share dressing room with the greats of the game...it’s awesome.
What’s your experience with Rahul Dravid who also played for the same franchise in the IPL?
I had some great sessions with Rahul paaji. He used to guide me a lot. I discussed with him how to build a longer innings, how to approach a long innings.
What did he say?
He told me to follow the basics…that I should not throw my wicket away after hitting 30-40 runs. If you have to score a big century, the process remains the same. You have score the same away as you scored the first 30 runs. It’s not that I start hitting boundaries after scoring 30 runs.
The players who played under Shane Warne described it as a life-time experience. How was your experience?
Warnie was really great. He can instil self-belief in every player. He threw the ball at me in an important match. It’s unbelievable that he kept his faith on a 20-year old rookie like me and that too in a guy who is not even a regular bowler. If he says that Ashok you are the best player in India, it means a lot for me. I have never seen such an active captain than him. He had his plans for every batsman. His quick manoeuvring on the field was fantastic. His energy level was also great.
Share some other experiences in the IPL…
Before the IPL, I had a lot of doubts in my ability…how will I play against the top class bowlers…but when I faced Tait for the 1st time in nets, it became easy for me to face other fast bowlers. Then you don’t mind facing a bowler with 140 km/h speed because you have already played a bowler who bowls 150km/h.
There is a lot of criticism that your generation is not committed, not disciplined enough? What is your view on that?
I don’t think so we are not committed towards cricket. Today’s generation is as hard working as anybody earlier. It’s not possible to get success without commitment. If one is not disciplined, one can’t play international cricket for a long time.
People say that Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli are talented but they are not committed. Do you believe that?
I think Rohit made his comeback through sheer hard work. Ultimately, how fast you change yourself…how quickly you understand the importance of discipline in life.
However, cricket is has changed over the years. Earlier a good cover drive used to excite people no matter what the result was of the shot. But today not everyone will appreciate the good shots which don’t fetch runs. Cricket has become more competitive these days.