CLT20 2012 Group A – Kolkata Knight Riders v Auckland Aces
Manvinder Bisla feels former Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) captain Gautam Gambhir handled ace Caribbean off-spinner Sunil Narine a lot better than his successors Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan have done.
Bisla starred in KKR’s maiden Indian Premier League (IPL) triumph in 2012 with a swashbuckling 89 (48) against Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the final. The innings is rated amongst the finest the lucrative league has ever seen, considering its context.
In addition to his IPL fame, Bisla played first-class cricket for Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. He also captained the India U-19 Test team during their tour of England in 2002. The former wicketkeeper-batter is currently serving as the head coach of a Gurugram-based cricket academy called SportsCube. Although content with the role, he has expressed his desire to be associated with an IPL franchise.
In a recent chat with Sportskeeda, Bisla looked back at his cricket career and recalled the moment when Bollywood superstar and KKR co-owner Shah Rukh Khan spoke to his parents. He also called for Yuzvendra Chahal’s inclusion in India’s limited overs set-up and cited the wily leg-spinner’s absence as a major reason behind India’s T20 World Cup debacle last year.
Q: How did Manvinder Bisla get into cricket? Please tell us about your formative years.
Bisla: I started playing the game in Hisar, Haryana. Mr. Anurag Hooda taught me the basics. It was because of him that I really got interested in cricket. He told me to look beyond Hisar for future opportunities, so I went to Faridabad to train under Rajkumar Sharma. I learned most of my cricket under Rajkumar sir. By the time I was 15 or 16 years old, I had secured an Indian Airlines scholarship in cricket.
Q: How did you develop an interest in keeping wickets? Which wicketkeeper did you idolize whilst growing up?
Bisla: I started keeping wickets in my teenage years. I always wanted to become an opening batter. My coaches told me to develop an extra skill because just batting may not guarantee success in every game. An added skill helps you create a bigger impact in a match. I felt wicketkeeping was a good option because it allows a player to be more involved in a match.
Adam Gilchrist was my role-model during that period. I was very happy when I signed a contract with the Deccan Chargers in 2009 because Gilchrist was their captain back then. I underwent knee surgery ahead of that season, but I was hopeful of recovering in time.
Unfortunately, my rehab process started late and I missed all the first-class games that season. However, I was preparing well and was optimistic about a return in the domestic one-day matches. That didn’t happen as I suffered an elbow fracture whilst batting in a practice session. That kept me out for six to seven months, so I missed the 2009 IPL.
Q: But you made an impact for Kings XI Punjab in your maiden IPL season a year later. Talk us through your experience of playing alongside Yuvraj Singh, Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardene and Brett Lee.
Bisla: The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) had organized a Corporate Cup ahead of that season. I was playing for Air India in that competition. I made a 150-plus score and had a big partnership with [M.S.] Dhoni in a match. Yuvi paaji was playing for Air India’s other team. He saw me bat and asked me to appear for the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) trials. They were looking for an Indian wicketkeeper.
The coaches liked me and I was selected in the KXIP squad. They had a great team at the time. I got to learn a lot from Sangakkara, Jayawardene, Yuvi paa, Brett Lee and Irfan [Pathan]. Irfan and I played U-19 cricket for India together. He was an important member of the Indian team in 2010. The most important thing that I learnt from these stalwarts was how to bounce back after a string of failures.
Q: You played during an era when Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s position was unshakeable in the Indian team. How challenging was it to motivate yourself despite knowing that becoming a regular wicketkeeper in the national side was a distant possibility?
Bisla: MS Dhoni is a legend. What he has achieved for Indian cricket is unparalleled. There’s no point in getting frustrated. Instead, you ought to focus on how you can upgrade your skills. Since my childhood my dream has been to play for the country. That doesn’t mean I’ll feel jealous if someone else is performing well in my role. Many wicketkeepers got chances during Dhoni’s reign, but I wasn’t one of them. Looking back at my career, I feel I should’ve performed a lot better.
Q: You represented Kolkata Knight Riders for four seasons (2011-2014) and won two IPL championships. Were these the best four seasons of your cricket career?
Bisla: Yes, I’m 100 percent sure (smiles)!
Q: Your match-winning 89 against Chennai Super Kings in the 2012 IPL final has achieved cult status. You replaced Brendon McCullum for the match. When were you informed about your selection and how did you prepare yourself for the final?
Bisla: I was informed [about my selection] two days before the game. If you remember, [Lakshmipathy] Balaji got injured in our Qualifier against Delhi, so Pradeep Sangwan, Mohammed Shami and I were told to prepare ourselves for the final. However, I only got confirmation of my selection in the afternoon on match day.
To be honest, I was mentally very fresh because I was well prepared for the match. I was batting really well that season, but I wasn’t able to make big scores. I was confident of doing well that season, but I couldn’t utilize most of my chances. I will always be grateful to Gautam [Gambhir] and the entire coaching staff of KKR for showing faith in me.
Q: What was going on inside your head when your opening partner Gambhir got out in the powerplay?
Bisla: Gautam was in prime form that season. He led us from the front. When [Jacques] Kallis came out to bat in the final, he exuded a lot of calmness. It was not a typical Chepauk wicket, so we were confident of chasing down the target. He [Kallis] told me to practice caution for the first six overs. We started hitting after the powerplay was over. I struck four boundaries in an Albie Morkel over and everything started going our way from that point on.
KKR chased down CSK’s total of 190-3 in 19.4 overs to claim their maiden IPL crown. (Image Courtesy – Getty Images)
Q: What was the feeling when Shah Rukh Khan spoke to your parents after the match?
Bisla: Shah Rukh bhai wanted to win the IPL badly. He was very happy with the way the team was playing that season because every player chipped in with important contributions. I was delighted when he spoke to my parents on the phone. My parents are proud of me.
Q: The T20 World Cup was played in Sri Lanka in September that year. Did you receive any communication from the national selectors after the IPL final?
Bisla: No, nothing.
Q: Let’s talk about your coaching experience now. When did you get into coaching? Please tell us something about your academy.
Bisla: I’m currently associated with a Gurugram-based cricket academy called SportsCube. It was founded by Mr Dipak Kumar Singh and Mr Kunwar Raj. We provide great facilities here. We have six turf pitches, including AstroTurf and cement pitches. We also have an indoor set-up comprising five pitches and a gym. We already have two grounds and will procure another in a month or two. We have a coaching team consisting of 10 people including myself and two other ex-Ranji Trophy cricketers.
Q: How many children are training under you at the moment?
Bisla: We have around eighty children practicing at SportsCube at present. We have both boys and girls belonging to different age groups. We’re also supporting some kids here, who’re part of the SportsCube Foundation. All cricket facilities and education are provided to them free of cost.
Q: Do you think playing Test cricket should be the ultimate goal of every aspiring cricketer in India? In this day and age of T20 razzmatazz, how do you help children cultivate patience?
Bisla: Representing India should be your ultimate goal, no matter what the format is. My personal opinion is that all the formats are equally important. Every cricketer has different skills and mindsets. If you feel that you’re more suited to the white-ball formats, prepare yourself accordingly. That doesn’t mean you’ll quit preparing yourself for Test cricket. Whenever children come to me saying that they want to focus on a particular format, I always encourage them. You should have clarity about your game – your strengths and weaknesses. I don’t think we should put one format on a pedestal and look down on the other formats.
Q: Are there any budding cricketers from your academy whom we should all watch out for?
Bisla: I’m very hopeful about one boy. His name is Karan Paswan. He’s a 15-year old spinner who can bowl both off-spin and leg-spin. He’s blessed with a lot of talent and has the potential to reach the next level.
Q: What is your opinion on Yuzvendra Chahal’s exclusion from the Indian team? Do you think his absence was a major factor behind India’s group stage exit from the 2021 T20 World Cup?
Bisla: If you talk about limited overs cricket, he should be your first pick as a spinner. It was evident from the way he performed in the second half of the IPL that he was back to his best form. Chahal has the ability to take wickets. I don’t know why he was dropped, but he has been a true match-winner for India in limited-overs cricket. He has even bowled well in the powerplay overs, which is a difficult task for spinners. It was the wrong decision to drop Chahal from the T20 World Cup squad. He should be a regular in the team.
Q: What are your thoughts on Harshal Patel’s rise? Do you see him in the Indian squad for the 2022 T20 World Cup?
Bisla: Harshal has a different skillset than other Indian pacers. His strength lies in death over bowling. It [his selection] depends on what type of bowler the team management wants. He can be used as a good death bowler because he has terrific control over his slower balls. I faced him in the nets during my stint at Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2015. I saw that his slower balls are difficult to read. He mixed his deliveries brilliantly in the previous IPL season.
Q: Kolkata Knight Riders have retained Andre Russell, Varun Chakravarthy, Venkatesh Iyer and Sunil Narine for the 2022 edition of the IPL. How do you view their retention? Was releasing Shubman Gill a wise decision?
Bisla: It depends on the roles you assign to the players. If you release Andre Russell and Sunil Narine, you’re less likely to buy them back at the same prices. Each of the 10 franchises would then try to acquire these players. Unfortunately, Russell hasn’t been in his best form over the past two seasons owing to multiple injuries.
Sunil, on the other hand, performed exceedingly well in the UAE leg of the 2021 IPL. Speaking of the Indian players, I think both Varun [Chakravarthy] and Venkatesh [Iyer] have performed consistently for KKR. In fact, KKR reached the final because of these two players. I think it was a good move to retain both these players.
Q: You saw Sunil Narine at his prime whilst playing for KKR. He has faced a lot of ups and downs since changing his bowling action. Given the way he performed in the UAE leg of IPL 2021, do you think he can still be a match-winner for KKR?
Bisla: Absolutely! He’ll always be a match-winner for KKR. It’s not possible to maintain a uniform performance graph throughout your career. He has gradually adapted to his new action. It takes a toll on your mental health when so many things happen around your action.
I feel he’s a very useful cricketer who can win you matches any time. If you take my opinion, I don’t think KKR have utilized him well for the past two seasons. He’s someone who thrives on challenges. He loves to bowl in powerplay overs. He did well in the UAE because he was given more responsibility.
Q: So you feel Gautam Gambhir handled Narine much better compared to Dinesh Karthik and Eoin Morgan?
Bisla: 120 percent! There’s no doubt about it. Gautam was a special skipper. Even now when we talk, I call him “skipper”. He has backed a lot of players, not just Sunil. He showed faith in many young bowlers, even against power-hitters like Dhoni and [Darren] Sammy. Nobody has used Narine better than Gautam.
Q: We wish you all the best for your coaching career. Are there any other interesting projects you would like to associate yourself with moving forward?
Bisla: Not yet. I had a short scouting stint with KKR during the last Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament. I would love to be associated with an IPL team.