EXACTLY TWO months after earning his India cap against Pakistan at Jaipur, Uttar Pradesh all-rounder Praveen Kumar made a strong case to be retained in the one-day squad for the forthcoming VB series in Australia with a rich haul of eight for 68 against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy final on Friday.
On a wicket that helped seamers, Praveen, 21, literally made the batsmen dance to his tune with the second new ball. On Thursday, he had taken three top order wickets and on Friday, he added five more to register the fifth-best figures in Ranji Trophy finals.
With the selection for the tri-series less than forty-eight hours away, does he feel the haul came at the right time? "Nothing like that," came the prompt reply. "I have been picking wickets throughout the season."
The eight-wicket haul has taken his tally to 36 - at less than 15 runs apiece - from six matches. Friday's haul was not just his personal best but also this season's best bowling effort.
Hailing from Meerut, Praveen comes from a family of wrestlers. While learning the basics in the akhada, Praveen was drawn to a local cricket talent hunt and has since not looked back.
The bowler gave a proof of his cricketing brain when he said, "You have to change your strategy depending on how a batsman is playing. Since he (Aakash Chopra) was leaving everything marginally outside off, I decided to make him play every ball and it worked.
"We got them (Delhi) out by making them play at the deliveries. Our batsmen fiddled with deliveries outside off and lost their wickets."
Before he broke into the Ranji team, Praveen did not have a coach. But he admitted that the presence of Ashish Winston Zaidi in the team, first as a player and now manager, helped him immensely.
"He always discusses the intricacies of fast bowling and keeps telling us the importance of hitting the right length."
Praveen's two spells with the new ball read 5-0-15-3 and 4.1-1-6-2. However, his heroics would still not be enough for UP to win their second Ranji title in three years.
For that to happen, they will be looking forward to some big hitting on Saturday morning from none other than the man himself.