'It took some time to shake off the nerves'

In less than two years, Ish Sodhi has gone from being a net bowler to a Test cricketer. He talks about his progress through the ranks and his surreal Test debut

Mohammad Isam

November 6, 2013

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Ish Sodhi at a training session at the Zahur Ahmed Chowdhury Stadium in Chittagong, October 7, 2013
Ish Sodhi has modelled his action on Anil Kumble, another tall legspinner Munir Uz Zaman / © AFP
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If it wasn't for Imran Tahir, Ish Sodhi wouldn't have played Test cricket before his 21st birthday.

Daniel Vettori was preparing for the home Tests against South Africa in early 2012 when the visiting team was declared. Tahir was picked, predictably, so Vettori needed to train against a legspinner. He found out about Sodhi and asked the gangly young man to bowl at him. Impressed by what he faced for hours in the nets, Vettori arranged for Sodhi to play for Northern Districts.

"Dan has been quite instrumental for me," Sodhi said. "We built up quite a good relationship, and I ended up playing for the same club as him, and played a couple of games with him too. He was one of my heroes growing up."

After taking 27 wickets from 14 first-class matches, Sodhi, who was born in Ludhiana in northern India and moved to New Zealand with his family in 2001, found himself making his debut against Bangladesh in the Chittagong Test last month.

"It was something you dream of, growing up as a child. It is almost surreal when it does happen. Once you shake off the nerves, you are into it. It has been pretty awesome.

"I started playing when I was nine years old. I started to enjoy it from the age-group levels, and progress further.

"It is in my blood to love cricket. I mean I'm Indian. It was just waiting to come out and it did for me."

Sodhi, who played age-group cricket in Auckland, found it hard to break into his local first-class side. "They had a few good spinners," he said. "I had to make the move to Northern Districts.

"I played my first first-class game less than a year ago. I still feel I have a lot of experiencing to do at first-class level."

In less than a year, however, his fortunes changed. After some fine performances on New Zealand A's tour of India and Sri Lanka, Sodhi was fast-tracked into the Test team, where he was picked as the second spinner behind Bruce Martin. With both spinners being picked, Sodhi's young cricket career had a major upswing.

"It happened quite quickly. I am lucky because you want it to happen at some point in your career. The first couple of days, it felt like I was in a cartoon. It took some time to shake off the nerves.

"Once I got a wicket, I settled down and understood my role. I started to get into the fight a little bit more. As the Test series went on, I got better as I shook off the nerves of the hype of Test match cricket. I really enjoyed it," he said.

He took three wickets in the first Test but was expensive. It began with Nasir Hossain trying to pull a ball and popping a high catch to mid-on.

 
 
"It is in my blood to love cricket. I mean I'm Indian. It was just waiting to come out and it did for me."
 

"Chittagong was tough, slow and low. The ball turned very slowly. The first wicket was a long time coming, and I had pictured my Test wicket in my mind a million times.

"It didn't look like how I got it, but you have to take them when they come. I was lucky to get that first wicket. To say I got six wickets is massive for me at this stage. I could never expect this to happen so soon."

Sodhi's bowling did get better as the Test series went from Chittagong to Dhaka, and he became more threatening on a more bowler-friendly wicket. "The second Test was a little bit easier to settle in. It wasn't too tough to get used to the conditions. I enjoyed bowling in Dhaka.

"The wicket was offering me quite a bit in the first innings. There was quite a bit there on the second morning."

Sodhi has modelled himself on Anil Kumble, particularly because he is also tall. He knows that he can create an awkward angle for the batsmen, but understands it can be disconcerting for him on wickets that don't offer much bounce. He hasn't met Kumble yet, but during the India tour he did catch up with Rahul Sharma, another tall legspinner.

Sodhi is back in New Zealand now, playing for Northern Districts alongside Vettori. He hopes to be picked for the New Zealand summer, when they play Tests against West Indies in December.

So far it has been almost a privileged entry into Test cricket, but crucially Sodhi understands it is quite early and he still has work to do on his bowling. New Zealand doesn't just have a talented legspinner, they have a man who is quite clear about what he needs to do to be a better bowler.

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. He tweets here

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by njr1330 on (November 6, 2013, 22:33 GMT)

'...I mean, I'm Indian...' Strange, I thought you were a New Zealander.

Posted by SyedAreYouDumb on (November 6, 2013, 22:13 GMT)

I liked this guy bowling but I dont think he is suitable against teams that are suited against spin. But he can improve starting off by making his first class average acceptable.

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