Manan Vohra burst onto the IPL scene in style with a Man of the Match performance against Pune Warriors India in IPL 2013. He recalls the special day right from receiving a shock call-up from Darren Lehmann to Gilchrist’s inspiring words to hitting a stylish 28-ball 43.
The eve of a match is generally about nervous anticipation and excitement. And for a raw youngster, those emotions are naturally amplified. There are times when you are informed that you are in the playing eleven and there are times when you have to wait. It might feel like the longest wait of your life where you are at the end of endlessly oscillating emotions.
An 18-year-old Manan Vohra experienced all this ahead of his first IPL match. Vohra had arrived straight from the U-19 arena. On the eve of the Kings XI Punjab’s 2013 IPL opener, against Pune Warriors, he was included in the 15-member squad. It was a trend the franchise had followed over a period of time.
“I asked my teammates that when they select the 15, what are the chances of playing in the 11,” Vohra recalls. “They were like, the ones who are going to play get a call the night before the match or early morning. If you don’t get the call then that means you are not playing.”
Vohra stayed up late on the eve of the match in anticipation of the call, but it didn’t arrive. The Punjab batsman wasn’t overtly disappointed though. The nerves had faded away the next morning as he was mentally prepared by his colleagues that if the “call doesn’t come, you are definitely not playing and they are taking you (to the ground) because it’s your first year.”
“I didn’t get a call till the next morning so I was very relaxed,” Vohra says. “The little jittery feeling went away. Obviously, I wanted to play but the nervousness subsided. I felt they won’t play me and my turn will come next time.”
The team meeting on the matchday didn’t have any message for Vohra. It was a 4 pm start so the team reached the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium at around 2.30 pm. The mood had changed.
“It was the first time I went to an IPL field. I and Mandeep Singh were close friends and used to play for Punjab. I told him, take me to the ground, I want to see the atmosphere.
“I still remember, there is a staircase in Pune that leads to the ground, I was just walking down those just about 15 minutes before the toss and I suddenly saw our coach Darren Lehmann come running towards me. He stopped and said, ‘Mate, you are playing.'”
The mood changed again.
“For two minutes I was stunned,” Vohra recalls. “It was something very big for a youngster and I was just 18. I didn’t know anything about how to play in the IPL. I felt happy and at the same time scared. I wasn’t prepared mentally because I didn’t feel I would play. I just ran into the dressing room and somehow managed my kit.”
Vohra was a part of the development squad of KXIP under the tutelage of Michael Bevan the previous year. The franchise had seen him in practice and in U-19 cricket and he had also played for the senior Punjab side by then. Impressed by his talent and performances, KXIP signed him up ahead of the 2013 season.
Vohra then impressed captain Adam Gilchrist in the practice matches in the 10-day camp ahead of the IPL which acted as a catalyst.
“I scored 60 odd runs and was batting with Gilchrist,” Vohra recalls. While playing, he was praising and motivating me from the other end. He was making me understand how to go about it. I was new to the T20 format at that time, the format itself was also relatively new. And I still remember he sent a motivating message to me after that practice game, ‘It was great playing with you mate’.
“Nowadays, in the last one-two years, a lot of youngsters are promoted, they straightaway get to play a match upon their arrival. But at that time the trend was a bit different. You didn’t get a chance straight up in the first match, the franchises used the give a chance towards the end. I thought they won’t play me straight up. They would want that I see and feel the atmosphere, travel with the team, get that experience. This was the pattern set at that time in the IPL. But when God has planned things for you, it happens.
“I became a bit restless and didn’t know what to do. It was of great help that I got to know it (about my debut) on the ground only because if you get to know it one day prior then there are too many thoughts that clog your mind. But at that time, I was blank. There was just half an hour for the start of the match and no time to think.”
With no time to think, Vohra began to warm-up and then just “went with the flow.”
Pune elected to bat but managed just 99/9 on a slow MCA wicket.
Vohra was slotted in at No 3. Gilchrist and Mandeep opened the batting and the captain started off in a blistering fashion hitting two fours and a six off Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the first over. However, against the run of play, Gilchrist departed for 15 in the third over.
“Suddenly he (Gilchrist) got out and I was like ‘Ab hai kuch‘ (Now there is something, I am playing). When I was walking out, I felt that nervousness. The butterflies had started fluttering inside the stomach and the mind said, ‘It’s showtime, you have to play’.”
Having his friend and Punjab teammate Mandeep at the other end did help. He advised Vohra to play his natural game, and the teenager found his groove straightaway with a boundary off the third ball. He added three more fours off the next three balls to make it four in a row off pacer Ashoke Dinda. That continued the momentum Gilchrist had set.
Vohra’s on the up and down the ground shots stood out as he hit an unbeaten 28-ball 43 to take KXIP past the finish line with seven overs to spare. The shot-making wasn’t easy as the wicket was a bit slower but it had become a bit better in the second innings. Vohra read the wicket well and learned from the mistakes Pune had committed. His stylish stroke-making caught the eye of the cricketing fraternity.
“To be honest, there were no thoughts going through my mind,” Vohra says. “I just went out and played. And then everything happened. That’s what happens when you are going with the flow. You don’t think, you don’t plan, things just happen. What you have done subconsciously over time, works inside your brain.
“That’s the beauty of youth, you are not cautious, you are fearless. I hit one four, then two, and then I got a bit excited and achieved my rhythm. I was connecting them really well.”
There were two major motivating factors acting as driving force: The first was Gilchrist’s inspiring words before the start of the innings.
“Gilchrist, me, and Mandeep were in the dressing room padding up and at that time the captain said, ‘Mate, enjoy the moment, that’s it, you don’t have to think anything else. Just play naturally.
“It was very motivating. I am so happy and grateful that my first captain under whom I played the IPL was Adam Gilchrist. He is one of the nicest players I have come across. He’s been the legend of the game. But the way he handles the players is tremendous. He handled me very well at that time; at that age getting the right direction is very crucial.”
Playing in front of packed stands for the first time increased the adrenaline rush.
“The atmosphere was so lively: there was crowd noise, cheering, music. A player gets into a different zone in the IPL. You forget everything and keep enjoying with the atmosphere. You feel like the noise is for you. I saw the ball, I hit the ball. I was lucky that I was connecting them that day. The strokes were coming out naturally. As I said, the subconscious mind takes over and does the work that you have done over the years.”
Vohra was named the Man of the Match. Something he wasn’t expecting. “I thought since in low scoring matches only bowlers get the MOM. I don’t know, I was lucky enough.”
The excitement didn’t subside for the next few hours.
“It was a great feeling. I remember I couldn’t sleep at night. First I called up my mom and dad. Then I spoke to my grandparents and sister. Then did a video call with a few of my close friends. When you get into IPL, your phone goes crazy. I was so happy, so excited. It was truly special, that moment, that day.”
That debut knock set things in motion for Vohra.
“It (the debut knock) was impactful. When you start off on debut with such kind of performance on such a big stage it is very crucial. My career shaped up from there. After that, I played five years for KXIP, and India A as well. My domestic career went well and things kept happening one after another. Once you do well in the IPL, not just on the debut but in any match as a youngster, you get a lot of push.”
And all of this wouldn’t have happened without that crucial opportunity that many talented youngsters don’t end up getting in their careers.
“Starting is such a good way is what every youngster dreams of. It was a special feeling, you can’t express something that is your very own. I am just grateful for getting that opportunity at that age,” Vohra signs off.
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