It was amazing. I was expecting it every match. I was always the 12th man. But when I got the call I was expecting Ricky to tell me, "Hardik, sorry bro, you missed out." But on this day he walked out of the dressing room with a cap in his hand. He just said: "Good luck, mate. Go and express yourself. I know you are going to do well." And I did.
He walked up to me and said, "What do you want to improve?" I said: "[Facing] the short ball." We did specific drills then. He explained the pull shot, upper cut, square cut, the hook.
"Before going into the IPL I was thinking: I am doing amazingly well in the domestic circuit, will I do the same in the IPL? I used to work out like anything. I drained myself out and lost three or four kilos"
After a warm-up at the Wankhede Stadium, he told me: "The way you are playing, in one and a half years you are going to play for India. That capability you have." I was like, whoa! That time I did not know I was going to play for India in seven to eight months. But when Sachin Tendulkar tells you that, I cannot describe what it felt like.
Till the 18th over we had lost only three wickets. I was batting at No. 8. I did not expect I would even get to pad up. But then David Wiese took three wickets in an over. Rohit bhai [Sharma] got out, Polly [Kieron Pollard] got out and then Rayudu bhai [Ambati Rayudu]. Before me, Bhajji pa [Harbhajan Singh] went in to bat.
Before the match I did not want to play because I had a very bad catch in my neck. But the Mumbai trainer, Paul Chapman, said: "You seriously want to miss the game for this neck sprain? Who cares? Just have the painkillers and play."
[Dwayne] Bravo was bowling really well. We felt the game was getting out of our hands because the ball was gripping [the pitch] and Bravo was bowling slower ones. He had given only four runs in the 18th over. When we saw Negi come to bowl, Rayudu said: go for it. The first ball from Negi I hit for six over long-on. MS Dhoni immediately said: "Negi, nahi, nahi, nahi" (Negi, no, no, no). The next ball I tried to reverse-sweep and missed. Rayudu was shouting abuse at me in Hindi. I was laughing even while he was shouting. The next two balls went for sixes and the match was over.
Bhajji pa was about go in, but Ponting asked Rohit and he made it clear that he wanted a proper batsman at the crease as the wicket was not good.
"Tendulkar told me: 'The way you are playing, in one and a half years you are going to play for India.' I was like, whoa!"
I wanted to gain confidence. Before going into the IPL I was thinking: I am doing amazingly well in the domestic circuit, will I do the same in the IPL? That is why I used to work out like anything. I drained myself out and lost three or four kilos. One day Ponting told me: "You are practising a lot, but take a day or two off and it will be good for your cricket." I felt confident. I used to hear that after an IPL season a youngster can grow. That happened to me.
I am a bat freak. Even if I have one match bat I carry eight bats to make my kit look heavy. Same with gloves: seven to eight pairs. I used to borrow bats till two years ago. I did not have the money. I did not have a bat to play in the Vijay Hazare Trophy before last year. I called Irfan bhai [Irfan Pathan] and he gave me two bats. Then last year I got a bat sponsor. Till then I was playing with whatever I had. You won't believe but I used to make my bats last for at least two years, strapping them several times.
Yes, two years back I was. There was no name for the tournament. It was just between villages. I would play for teams like Jhambuja XI. What was the fascination? Rs 400. My brother used to get Rs 500. For a week at least, life would be normal.
A batting allrounder. Batting has always been my priority. Till last year I saw myself as 60% batsman and 40% bowler. But after that I worked on my bowling and now I focus equally on both.
Definitely. I don't feel shy to say that, but I have been selected as a proper allrounder, so my aim is to fit that role. I can still improve my bowling. I have to work on my yorkers and slower balls. I need to get stronger, which will help me bowl quick.
I back myself. You should be confident enough to go out there and express yourself. I don't wear any mask. I am like this. But I was not like this four years ago. Back then I did not have the confidence to speak to people. But in the last two years I have started speaking more confidently and that's because of WhatsApp. I have always wanted to speak in English. Even if I wasn't fluent, I'd still speak. People used to make fun of me but I continued to speak. From those kinds of things I gained confidence.
It's only been nine months [since he said that]. I am sure I am going to make my debut. This is my first international trip. I made my passport about five years ago. This is the first time I'll make use of it. I am well prepared. The challenge will be to get used to the bounce while batting. I am bowling good enough to make use of the Australian pitches. I am sure I am going to put on a good show.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo