Awana's timely performances earn Test call
A five-for one day; an attacking half-century the next. Parvinder Awana's performance in the ongoing Ranji Trophy match between Delhi and Karnataka was eye-catching, and well timed. India had just lost the Kolkata Test to England, and the selectors were due to pick the squad for Nagpur and the two Twenty20s. Patience had run out with Zaheer Khan and Awana, the Delhi seamer who has been part of the India A team, was selected in both squads.
Awana was approaching his fifty at the Chinnaswamy Stadium when he heard. He had gestured to the dressing room and one of the reserves stepped out with a pair of bats and the good news of his selection. Awana had come out to bat when Delhi were 144 for 7, 48 away from drawing level with Karnataka's first-innings score. With no specialist batsmen left, he guided his partner Sumit Narwal, and they first inched towards safety before launching towards the target of 192 and past it.
After he got news of his selection, Awana stepped up the pace. He hit the ball to the deep midwicket boundary to bring up his maiden first-class fifty. With the deficit wiped out, Awana attacked the bowling until his departure for 74.
After a relatively quiet opening day, television news crews arrived at the ground when Awana's selection was announced. Having played the IPL and felt its spotlight, Awana saw the attention coming. "It is every player's dream to be selected for the national team and it was mine too," Awana said. "I've got the opportunity at the right time. I've had some good performances recently."
The only time he struggled a bit to maintain composure while answering questions was when he was asked whom he would dedicate this selection to. To understand where his emotions were coming from, one would have to trace his background. Awana grew up in a village in the outskirts of Noida, in Delhi's National Capital Region. His family went through hard times when his father died in 1999 and the responsibility of taking care of the family fell on his mother. It came down to picking a career with the police force or in cricket. Awana chose sport and there was no looking back.
"I'd like to thank my mother. My father has passed away," Awana said. "I was thinking of him today. My mother has helped me a lot."
Early recognition came when he won a fast-bowling talent hunt in 2004, by clocking 138 kph. Awana was eventually picked in the Delhi Ranji side and the 2011-12 season, in which he took 35 first-class wickets, was his most productive. He was rewarded with an IPL stint with Kings XI Punjab, and he impressed with his ability to bowl in the mid-140 kph range.
Awana expected to be on the plane to the Caribbean for an A tour after the IPL, but was overlooked by the selectors. He took the disappointment in his stride, saying his early life lessons helped him cope with rejection. However, an injury to RP Singh opened a slot for Awana. He played one game on tour and took three wickets. He was overlooked again for the A tour of New Zealand but was picked for the A team's match against England at Brabourne Stadium. He went wicketless, but his two five-fors this Ranji season were a timely reminder of his talents.
Awana doesn't rely on raw pace alone. Against Karnataka, on a grassy first-day pitch, he pitched the ball up, swung it and tempted the batsmen to drive. The ball that broke KL Rahul's defences and sent the off stump for a spin was his best delivery.
"I've learnt that just pace isn't enough, that line and length is also important," he said. "My deliveries cut in naturally. In India, we mostly get flat wickets. So I don't think about what kind of pitch I get, I concentrate on bowling well through the air. I've been playing for Delhi, and I've learnt a lot from my seniors, Ashish bhai [Nehra], Ishant [Sharma], Viru bhai [Sehwag]. I've also learnt a lot from the IPL."
In Karnataka's second innings, when Delhi were searching for a breakthrough, Awana was the only bowler who created chances against both batsmen. The wicketkeeper and slips let him down.
Did he feel any extra pressure to deliver, now that he's been picked in the Test squad? "Pressure?" he asks with a smile. "No pressure at all. I've been playing for five-six years anyway."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo