I think I might make it this year: Dinesh Mongia
Dinesh Mongia's spectacular burst of rungetting in the Duleep Trophy has added a compelling sense of authority to the elegant lefthander's claims for recognition on a grander scale. After two double tons in the competition, stacked up alongside a triple against Jammu & Kashmir earlier in the season, Mongia virtually commanded a place amongst the 25 probables for the series against Australia.
But he is not a stranger to appearing in the national colours. Back in April 1996, Mongia was part of the India Under-19s who took on their South African counterparts at home. Two months earlier he had made a virtually anonymous Ranji Trophy debut in the pre-quarters against Baroda where Punjab were eliminated from the competition. Then came the break in the first `Test' against the Proteas. On a green top in Mohali, against bowlers like Nantie Hayward and Makhaya Ntini, he played a glorious hand of 103 to announce himself as a class performer to the country at large.
In his first full Ranji season in 1996-97, Mongia cracked a ton against Himachal Pradesh in only his third first class game and followed up with an unbeaten 207 against the Services. Even though he amassed 768 runs in the 1999-2000 Ranji Trophy at over 57 apiece, his name barely figured in the selectorial mindset. By the look of things he was clearly building himself up for something big and true to bear, the gateway that had been hitherto barred to him opened up under an avalanche of runs this season. Mongia has been helped along by being part of a victorious team which has swept everything before it this season, for nothing is more frustrating to a good player than finding himself at the wrong end of success.
The impetus for Mongia's thrust, of course, is his well documented liking for tall scores. Grand gestures like doubles or triples portray the image of a man who puts a very steep price on his wicket. But the runs all came in quick time for he's always been an attractive strokemaker. Adventurous, yes, but not reckless enough to be carried away by his own brilliance. A decent enough left arm orthodox spinner who has been starved of bowling opportunities all season, Mongia stands at the brink of a decisive break in a rapidly burgeoning career. He spoke to CricInfo during the camp for the probables in Chennai.
On his beginnings in the game
Actually I'm a late starter. I started at the age of 18. But in the very first year I got runs for my Under-19 state team, Punjab, and was selected for the India junior side against South Africa. I did well there also. I was the highest rungetter on that tour. We played against Hayward, Ntini, Boucher, Dippenaar, Kemp, so it was a great experience playing against them. After that I made my debut in the Ranji Trophy. It has been a tough experience so far. Everybody wants to play for the country. I think this year I might make it.
On his debut in the Ranji Trophy
I was a bit nervous at that time because I was playing among big players like Vikram Rathour, Pankaj Dharmani, Aashish Kapoor, Navjot Sidhu. I got some 25 odd runs but it was a good knock. It was against Baroda, Kiran More was leading their side. We lost that game in Mohali. I felt fine and thought I could make it after that.
On the player he most admires
My idol is Steve Waugh. I love watching him because of his determination, his grittiness, that's the main thing for me. If you have determination, if you have grit, then you will succeed.
On Punjab's dream run this season
That's what we're dreaming for, to win the Ranji Trophy for Punjab. We're doing quite well, all our players are in good nick, our batsmen are getting runs, our bowlers are bowling well. So we're looking forward to the rest of the season. We're going to win the Ranji Trophy, I think. Let's hope so.
On whether he's batting better than before
It's nothing like that. I was getting runs for the last two years. I got almost 800 runs last year and was among the top ten guys. But this time I'm making big runs. That's what matters at this moment, getting double or triple hundreds.
On the best innings of his career
Playing against South Africa Under-19, against Hayward and Ntini, I got a hundred in Mohali on a green track. So I think that was my best innings.
And the best innings of this season
I like all the knocks actually. Getting runs or getting big runs against any side and especially in Duleep Trophy, I think, is a good achievement for any cricketer.
On his triple against Jammu & Kashmir
When I went to bat, we guys were around 30/3, so I thought I have to stick in. I just had to see that period through. God willing I got big runs in that innings. It was the first triple century of my career, so I was happy I could also do it. I was just looking around at how Laxman gets big runs, Dravid, Pankaj Dharmani. I also wanted to do the same.
On his strengths
I love playing cricket. That's the biggest strength I'm having. My temperament, my patience and the eagerness or willingness to do well, that's my plus point.
On the areas he would like to tighten up
Bowling is the one department where I have to tighten up my skills. In today's cricket, you have to do well in all the areas, so it's a must to be an allrounder. I bowl decently well in one-dayers but for Punjab I'm not getting the chances because we have big spinners like Harbhajan and Sharandeep who are playing for India. There is also a left-arm spinner and a good leg spinner, so I'm not getting proper chances. But when I get a chance, I'm going to prove myself.
On the conditioning camp in Chennai
If there's a camp in Chennai, it always means that Chennai is going to be hot, especially for a guy who's coming from the north like me. It's very cold in the north at present, so it's totally different. But I'm happy that I'm working with John Wright and other seniors who I used to see on TV like Sachin, Sourav, Rahul, big names, so I want to work hard. And Wright is a hardworking guy and he wants everybody to work hard. So I'm looking forward to this camp.