The icy-cold weather in the national capital may have left everyone shivering, but the cold wave memo certainly did not reach Kumar Kushagra, the 19-year-old from Jharkhand’s Jamshedpur. Just a day after receiving an India A call-up, the wicketkeeper-batter Kushagra smashed a belligerent hundred to bail his team out of a perilous situation against Services in the ongoing Ranji Trophy 2024 season at the Palam Air Force Ground.
Services were soaring while Jharkhand, at 65 for 4, were in desperate need for a rearguard effort. Kushagra walked out to join his captain, Virat Singh, bringing some respite for the bruised visitors. With a 171 partnership for the fifth wicket, the duo turned fortunes for Jharkhand before the skipper fell for a well-fought 108. Kushagra, on the other hand, top-scored with 132 with 14 boundaries as Jharkhand posted 316 in their first innings.
The conditions were challenging but Kushagra and Singh dealt with utmost patience and eventually notched up triple figures when 7 out of 11 batters scored in single digits.
“Playing in Delhi in the cold is tricky. Seaming conditions and the impact of the wind and we were four down. So, my aim was to stay out there and get runs on the board. Even I had the same conversation with Virat [Singh] Bhaiyya that we can have a partnership, we can take the team to a comfortable position. So, that was the basic idea. Runs kept coming in and eventually, we reached the milestones,” Kushagra said after stumps on day 2 of Round 3.
“I tried taking the innings deeper and get as many runs as possible,” he added.
The century came in less than 24 hours after getting named in the India A squad for the last couple of games against the England Lions. Kushagra believes this call-up is a massive opportunity which shall fuel his aspirations of playing for the country.
“Getting picked for India A is a good opportunity for me. I’ve been playing the red-ball format for some days now. Yes, I got an IPL contract but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t focus on the longer format. So, it is a huge opportunity and if I can utilize it properly, it will only help me fulfil my dream of playing for the country.”
‘Representing India in all formats is the ultimate dream’
This wasn’t the first time when he rescued Jharkhand with his knock. Back in the 2021-22 season, he hogged the limelight in the fixture against Tamil Nadu with a gritty half-century in the chase of 212. It seemed unachievable at one point but the keeper-batter’s 50 off 121 deliveries scripted Jharkhand’s 2-wicket win. In the same season, he scored 266 in the pre-quarterfinals against Nagaland and shattered Javed Miandad’s record for the youngest player to score 250 or more in a first-class innings.
He had a decent run in the white-ball domestic tournaments last and is back to his usual business in the red-ball format with an impressive ton.
Juggling roles from one format to another is important and Kushagra is doing it well at a very young age. After all, he dreams of playing for the country one day.
“Becoming an all-format player, especially in India, is not that easy. Some players are specialists in a specific format, but it takes extra effort to become an all-format player. But for me, it’s my dream to represent India in all three formats,” he said.
‘Keeping on Indian tracks isn’t easy’
India is known for its turners but at the same time, it challenges the wicketkeepers too. Kushagra is aware of this fact and has been working on it without fail. In fact, he even seeks the experts’ advice whenever he gets an opportunity.
“Be it spinners or the fast bowlers, keeping on India tracks is never easy. And if you are dreaming big then obviously, it needs hard work. So, I keep learning new things and applying them in my practice. I keep speaking to different keepers,” he said.
“I met Wriddhi da at Kolkata airport where I asked him what improvements I can make. In fact, I met Ravindra Jadeja at the NCA and spoke to him about how to tackle spinner from behind the wickets,” Kushagra added.
The IPL excitement
Last month when the uncapped cricketers were cracking huge deals in IPL players’ auctions in Dubai, Kushagra too made quite a stir. The Delhi Capitals had him for a whopping sum of INR 7.2 crore, beating Gujarat Titans and Chennai Super Kings in the bidding war.
The Jamshedpur boy is excited to join the DC camp, which has stars like David Warner, Rishabh Pant and many more, and a little nervous as well. However, he is determined to give his best to carve his way to Team India.
“The pressure will be there but that doesn’t affect my personal goal, which playing for India someday. The 7-crore price tag has changed people’s perception towards me, and expectations are high. But the IPL is just the first step towards my dream of playing for Team India,” he said.
Dhoni – The Role Model
Kushagra too comes from Jharkhand but has never got a chance to meet legendary MS Dhoni. The youngsters started keeping after watching Dhoni and is looking forward to meeting him in the IPL and learning a trick or two.
“I started keeping after watching him only. The fact that he comes from a small city and has influenced players across the world is very inspirational,” Kushagra concluded.