14 Wickets in 3 Games, Prized Wickets of Sanju Samson & Ajinkya Rahane: Ashish Chouhan Calls it a ‘Dream Debut’

This Ranji Trophy season while the likes of Varun Aaron, Saurabh Tiwary, Manoj Tiwary and Faiz Fazal bid adieu to professional cricket, some fresh faces announced their arrival in India’s domestic circuit. Agni Chopra led the run charts with 939 in 6 games while Under-19 star Arshin Kulkarni notched a fifty on debut for Maharashtra. The latter’s teammate – Hitesh Walunj – finished the season with 41 wickets in 7 games and is currently the third-highest wicket-taker in the season.

Far from the limelight, there was another newcomer who caused quite a stir with his bowling prowess. Chhattisgarh’s Ashish Chouhan entered the tournament with a positive mindset. And once he was thrown in the arena, the 25-year-old fired with all cylinders to make it a ‘dream debut’.

Chouhan’s career took off with a five-wicket haul against Kerala and the list of his victims included high-profile names like Jalaj Saxena, Sachin Baby, Shreyas Gopal, Vishnu Vinod and the skipper himself, Sanju Samson.

Speaking exclusively with CricketNext, Chouhan was overwhelmed and ran out of words. A day before his debut, the lanky pacer had manifested a five-wicket haul and he was fortunate to enough to have it in his pocket.

“I would call it a dream debut. I had never thought that I would pick a 5-fer in my maiden first-class game, that too, against a strong team like Kerala. I was thinking how would it be if I could pick five wickets on my debut and when I got that… what should I say? It’s an overwhelming feeling,” Chouhan told CricketNext.

Maiden FC wicket

Chouhan’s maiden wicket was veteran Saxena who fell for a 17-ball duck. The dismissal calmed his nerves and gave him the feeling that he deserved to be there and represent his state.

“Getting the first wicket is a relief. It is a feeling that yes, you deserve to be here and now that you have something on the wickets column. A bit nervy as well, because when you are up against someone who is a veteran of Indian domestic cricket. But after getting the wickets, I felt that this was something which I always thought about,” Chouhan said.

The Chhattisgarh pacer was elated with his 6-wicket match haul but the Samson’s wicket held a special place. After the game ended in a draw, Chouhan tried picking the Indian wicketkeeper-batter’s brain and in return, received a compliment for his exceptional bowling performance.

“I just asked the basic questions; the mindset to play at the international level, how to bowl against the top-notch batters, or how does he read a bowler while batting. He simply said since I was starting my career, I don’t have to delve too much into all these. He asked me to back my skills and add a thing or two while following the process so that I would be able to confuse the batters. Apart from all these, he said, ‘You bowled well,’ which was a great compliment to receive,” Chouhan said.

The Mayhem Against Mumbai

Chhattisgarh’s next match-up was against Mumbai; a star-studded side which was leading the Elite Group B points table. The visitors troubled the Amandeep Khare-led side with a 244-run opening stand but once Vishvas Malik got the better Prithvi Shaw for 159, Chouhan chipped in to rattle the rest of the Mumbai batting line-up. The pacer returned 6 for 105 in 25 overs, including the prized wickets of Ajinkya Rahane and Shardul Thakur. Once again, the manifestation came into the picture.

Before facing Mumbai, Chouhan received several calls from his friends and family, all wanting him to get Rahane’s wicket. And voila… there he was with his reverse swing to get rid of the former India skipper for 1 off 4 balls.

“The ball was reversing when he walked out to bat. So, the plan was bas wicket to wicket daalna hai. And the ball in which I got him has to be the best ball of the day. Rahane is a great batter and you have to bowl a good delivery to get someone like him,” Chouhan said.

“In fact, prior to the game when I spoke to my friends and family, everyone was pumped more than me, asking to get his wicket. And the moment it happened… Baap re Baap, ek former India captain ka wicket lena is an amazing feeling.

“Facing Mumbai is not easy. We know their record in the Ranji Trophy and they know how to play this format, at least better than any other side. But for me, since I was playing just the second game, didn’t try anything different. Just what I have done so far. I would say that I could execute my plan in a better way and luckily, I didn’t have to toil much against Rahane as he fell early,” he added.

Better Late Than Never

Chhattisgarh have had a phenomenal season in 2024 but they ended up 5th on the table with 16 points – a win and a loss and 5 drawn games. Whereas Chouhan pocketed 14 wickets (6 against Kerala, 6 against Mumbai & 2 against Uttar Pradesh) in three matches at a decent economy rate of 4.19.

Chouhan warmed the benches in the first four rounds of the group stage of the ongoing Ranji Trophy before getting his opportunity in the last three. Waiting for your turn could be frustrating at times but for a first-timer like Chouhan, it was a ‘blessing in disguise’ who managed to pick up a few tricks on the sidelines.

“Nothing much was going in my head. I was observing the game as much as I could from the bench. I was trying to learn how the Ranji Trophy game unfolds as I was in the squad for the first time. So, it was a blessing in disguise from me that got a basic idea before playing my first game. So, I was just waiting for my chance without any thoughts,” he said.

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