In December 2020, Rachin Ravindra dislocated his right shoulder during a Super Smash outing for Wellington Firebirds. A visit to the surgeon later that evening brought him news that he would be out of action for at least nine months.
The news was crushing because Ravindra had been earmarked as a player to watch at NZC's High Performance camps in Lincoln. At that moment, Ravindra considered spending the winter finishing up a few papers for the Computer Engineering degree that he's pursuing.
However, surgery wasn't a straightforward option. The surgeon in Wellington was completely booked out for the month, so Ravindra had to wait for a slot to open up. He spent the next two months working on strengthening and mobility exercises with Nishil Shah, the Wellington Firebirds physiotherapist. By the time a surgery slot opened up, he had regained strength considerably.
Maybe it was the quirk of fate, but the delay in getting a slot for surgery has proved to be a blessing, with Ravindra now being fit enough to go his maiden tour with New Zealand. And it's a big one too: first a two-Test series against England in England, followed by a World Test Championship final against India.
"Yeah, I definitely had to pinch myself a couple of times and be like, 'oh, is this actually happening?' And kind of being seen in one of these Black Caps kits with some of the guys I have kind of idolised growing up," he said on Tuesday, about jumping on the plane to England. "Being able to rub shoulders, but it's a bit of a unique experience especially with Covid. Seeing empty airports is not such a common thing, but yeah even time in the airport, with such a world-class team, I'll cherish every moment."
Ravindra, 21, is one of two new faces in a strong 20-man squad that is currently undergoing quarantine upon arrival in the UK. Prior to arrival, he spent two weeks in Lincoln, training with his New Zealand team-mates, an experience he described as "surreal".
Since making his first-class debut a little over two years ago, on an A tour against Pakistan in the UAE, Ravindra has raked up impressive numbers as a top-order batter: three first-class centuries and nine half-centuries in 26 games. He also bowls more-than-handy left-arm spin, something he's still working hard at. His performances have also coincided with Wellington being on an unprecedented high. They won the Plunket Shield and the Super Smash in 2019-20. The following season, they went on to defend their Super Smash crown.
"I talked about idols and he's definitely one of them. He is a world-class player and has been for the last 10 years. So, I think every opportunity I have to mingle with him will be amazing."
Ravindra on Kane Williamson
"Yes, it's been big," Wellington coach Glenn Pocknall says of Ravindra's development since he first saw him as a 16-year-old. "When he first came into domestic cricket, he was young and he did well to start off, which few young players do in New Zealand. It normally takes two or three years to find their feet, but he came in and did well. He had a setback in form one season, but the cool thing was it never affected him mentally or didn't dent his confidence or his ability to think positively about his game.
"He got three ducks in a row [in his first season], for some players it can ruin them, but he carried on looking at his game and thinking of ways to get better. Having that underlying attitude and belief that he knew he was good enough stood out. He came out of the other side, and it was cool. He was only young, and I've seen it go the other way lot more times than the direction he has taken. That shows how resilient he is as a player, how mentally strong [he is]. It will help him when he is thrown challenges at the higher level of the game."
For over seven years now, right from when he was 13, Ravindra has been a regular visitor to India, not just on family holidays, but to hone his game against spin. His father Ravi Krishnamurthy is the founder of the Hutt Hawks Club that brings players over to India every summer to play on different pitches and in different conditions. Some of the more established players too, like James Neesham and Tom Blundell, have been part of these off-season tours to India. It's these experiences, Ravindra says, that have helped him get better.
"Personally, in terms of cricket development, I've come a long way," he says. "I definitely understand my game a lot more and I know what works for me in terms of preparation and what to think. Probably the biggest part of it was being an official cricketer [playing professionally], learning to balance that in terms of mindset and how to take a little time off, and keep working hard. It's really sort of taught me to be a cricketer in the last few years, I think we'll look back those tours I've had in the past. I wouldn't be half the cricketer without that sort of exposure."
For the moment, though, he can't wait to get outdoors and playing, even though beating his mates at Call of Duty on PlayStation gives him much amusement. One of the first things he wants to do when they eventually start training is chat with Kane Williamson, his captain and someone he wants to learn a lot from.
"I talked about idols and he's definitely one of them," Ravindra said. "He is a world-class player and has been for the last 10 years. So, I think every opportunity I have to mingle with him will be amazing. Learning from such a world-class player is something I can't really put into words. He is such a special cricketer, so being able to share the dressing room with them is an incredible feeling.
"I think from watching him, his hunger for runs [stands out]. He just looks like he wants to score a double-hundred every time he goes out to bat. And I admire that incredibly, the temperament to do that, the temperament to win Tests for New Zealand is incredible. I think the way he goes about it, he's such a humble bloke, and it just personifies the Kiwi way. Just being able to witness that in person is going to be amazing."
Pocknall, meanwhile, like Ravindra's father, will be following the allrounder's maiden overseas Test outing from Wellington. "He's definitely ready skill-wise, no doubt," Pocknall says. "He's performed well at the levels below, has a great technique to cope with different conditions. Whether he can handle the step up emotionally, mentally - you won't know until they play. But from my experience of seeing him cope with playing in higher grade and levels beyond his years, he's been able to cope well. The signs are really good, and he would be able to handle what is thrown at him."
His father, Ravi, says his son is obsessed with cricket, someone who would often refresh scores on his mobile phone if he were not near a television. "Yeah, I'm a cricket fan at the end of the day. I enjoy cricket so much that wherever cricket is on around the world, I like to keep tabs on it," Ravindra says. "And [I'm] definitely watching county cricket and following scores.
"There will be a four-day fixture starting tomorrow, so that's going to take up a lot of my time - sitting on the balcony and watching that. So, yeah, not necessarily statistics but tuning into some of the games. I have been [doing so]."
For some, this cricket obsession could lead to burnout. Not for Ravindra, says Pocknall. "Obsessive is a good word to describe his mentality around the game. It's not common for a lot of Kiwi kids where they're burning out, but he trains 4-5 hours every day on his own will with his dad, and he's done it from a really young age. It highlights his love and his drive to get better."