'The Secret' and the success of Ravi Bishnoi

Ravi Bishnoi is waiting to pick Anil Kumble's brains at Kings XI Punjab ICC via Getty

On Sundays, Ravi Bishnoi would sneak out of his house in Jodhpur, in the western state of Rajasthan, with his brother and play cricket all day. In the evenings, they would check to see where their father was, and rush back home and settle down with their textbooks before being caught.

Being the son of a headmaster of a government school, pursuing cricket was a long shot for Bishnoi, let alone think of becoming India's premier legspinner at the 2020 Under-19 World Cup and - not to forget - earn an INR 2 crore (US$ 280,300 approx.) paycheque at the IPL auction, the most among his colleagues now in South Africa.

But Bishnoi's mother loved the sport. He remembers watching cricket matches with her while his father was at school, and even now, she is to be found glued to the TV when the cricket is on, especially when her son is in action.

But Jodhpur isn't a hub for the game, which made taking the game seriously difficult.

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"Seven years ago, [older friends Shahrukh Pathan and Pradyot Singh] decided to make an academy of their own to fill the gap in the city. But none of us had the finances for it. So to keep the costs low, I did some of the labour work, with others, to build the academy," Bishnoi tells ESPNcricinfo. "There were some experts who developed the pitch and the ground, but I was breaking stones or carrying cement to them. Those six months were really tough, not knowing whether this effort would be worth it in the end, but once that academy was made, my formal cricket journey began."

It began all right, but didn't progress smoothly for the longest time, as he faltered first at the Under-16 and then the Under-19 trials for Rajasthan. But a word to the people in charge at the Under-19s from his coaches got him another shot at the Under-19s last year, and when he impressed, he was in.

Soon came his first brush with the IPL as a net bowler for Rajasthan Royals, but it clashed with his Class XII board exams. He chose cricket, staying back in Jaipur where the Royals were based.

"But the first two days, I didn't get to bowl. I told my brother I want to go back home to sit for my exams, but then my coach asked me to hang around," Bishnoi recalls. "In the night, they were playing scenario games and they asked me to field at third man. The first ball that came to me, I missed it and it went for four. So some people were saying 'who the hell is this guy?' but [Royals fielding coach Dishant] Yagnik sir told me, 'don't worry; you're here to be a bowler, not a fielder'."

"I really want to learn more about the flipper from Kumble sir. I already have that ball in my arsenal, but to improve on it, from the legend himself, would be something else"

He stayed on, and after the time with the Royals, Bishnoi made his Rajasthan debut at the Vinoo Mankad Trophy in September 2019, going on to pick up eight wickets in six List A games and six in six in T20s, all with good economy rates. Then came the call-up to the India Under-19 side, and success against Bangladesh earned him a spot in the World Cup side, and he already has a Man of the Match award in the bag following returns of 4 for 5 against Japan.

While Bishnoi now has just the solitary aim of helping India defend their world title, he can't wait to catch up with Anil Kumble, the coach at Kings XI, who sent him a congratulatory e-mail after the IPL auction.

"In the NCA, Rahul [Dravid] sir had a chat with me. He said, 'you and Kumble are similar that you guys bowl fast - bowl in such a way that the batsman plays at you every time; aim for the bat and that's half your job done'," Bishnoi says. "I really want to learn more about the flipper from Kumble sir. I already have that ball in my arsenal, but to improve on it, from the legend himself, would be something else."

But before all that happens, we need to go back to the IPL auction.

A few of his World Cup-bound team-mates had put their names in the hat too, and so he sat down with Akash Singh, the left-arm seamer, and Divyaansh Saxena, the top-order batsman, in a hotel room in Mumbai, where the team was based, to watch the action unfold on the TV.

"First Akash got selected by Royals, so Divyaansh and I were very happy for him. Then came the turn of the spinners," Bishnoi says. "For a while, I thought I wouldn't get anything because, at first, nobody put their paddle up. But as soon as Mumbai Indians made a bid for me, my heart started fluttering. From INR 20 lakh, the bidding simply grew. Finally, Kings XI Punjab bought me for INR 2 crore, and I couldn't believe it. My parents called me on video call. They were watching the auction too.

"But honestly, I won't say that's my biggest moment. My biggest moment will always be getting the chance to represent India. In our squad, we don't discuss the IPL. That's a no-no."

Bishnoi, whose best youth ODI figures thus far came against Japan in Bloemfontein the other day, believes his bowling is similar to Rashid Khan's: a fast run-up, combined with the quick roll of his shoulder. He also follows Yuzvendra Chahal and R Ashwin - not for their bowling, but for their cricketing brains.

"Growing up, of course, I watched videos of the god - Shane Warne. But now, I follow Rashid Khan's bowling," Bishnoi says. "And then there's Yuzi bhai and Ashwin sir. Chahal's mind is next level, I have realised. The way he varies his pace, the way he draws the batsman into the shot, that has really caught my attention. With the red ball, I can't stop watching Ashwin sir bowl. Both their brains fascinate me.

"With me as well, I think it's my mind that has helped me become a good spinner. I know when to keep calm and when to go aggressive. Because everyone has the same skill here. Here, the guy with the strongest mind will do better."

These days, Bishnoi is reading Rhonda Byrne's bestseller The Secret, a book that talks about the magic of positive thinking, on the recommendation of his Ranji senior Abhimanyu Lamba. The way he has started the World Cup for India, that reading has clearly paid off.