Ranji Trophy: Fitter, stronger Ishan Porel among the wickets for Bengal

Shamik Chakrabarty

Ishan Porel has already scalped 15 wickets this Ranji season. (Source: Express Photo)

A piece of advice and a couple of video clips on WhatsApp from Amol Muzumder acted as catalysts for Ishan Porel this season. After the fourth day’s play in the Bengal-Odisha Ranji Trophy quarterfinal at the DRIEMS College ground, the Bengal seamer gave the lowdown.

“During the Duleep Trophy, Amol sir sent me video clips of my bowling vis-à-vis Prasidh Krishna’s (Karnataka pacer). The videos captured how my front leg was collapsing (at the time of loading), while Prasidh Krishna’s front leg was a lot straighter. The advice was that a straighter front leg would help me generate more pace,” Porel narrated.

It prompted the young fast bowler to get to work. A radical overhaul wasn’t an option. Porel described why. “I started thinking about making the necessary correction. A complete change would have required a break from matches and going back to the nets. I was playing back-to-back matches. So I worked on the strength and mobility of my legs and kept the advice in mind while bowling in the nets.”

It worked. Last season, Porel was pretty mediocre. In six Ranji Trophy matches, he had 17 wickets at an average of 31. He looked pedestrian on pitches that didn’t offer help to the pacers. This season however, Porel is into his fourth Ranji Trophy fixture and has already accounted for 15 scalps at an average a shade over 18. He now hits the deck hard, bowls faster and extracts steeper bounce. Bengal head coach Arun Lal called him an “old woman” last season. He now calls the 21-year-old “India material”. Porel has graduated to India A, and had decent outings in New Zealand last month.

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Muzumder recognises the improvement. “A big noticeable change for me (with regard to Porel’s bowling) is that he has started to bowl a yard up (to the batsman). In first-class cricket, you won’t get away with it, if you aren’t bowling the first-class length – short of a length. About the video clips, I really don’t want to make it a big thing. He is a much-improved bowler. He is a terrific prospect as well. He has got the advantage of height. The target should be to bowl 15-20 overs in a day. The more you bowl, your bowling muscles improve and consequently your pace improves,” the former Mumbai captain told The Indian Express.

Porel is doing a lot of strength-training at the moment. “I’m not a born athlete. I’m doing the extra yards in the gym. I know I have to train harder. I have to build more strength in my legs,” he explained, crediting the Bengal head coach for organising an extensive pre-season. “The last season didn’t go as well as I wanted. But this season, the ball is rolling for me. We had a very good pre-season, where Lal ji (Arun Lal) pushed us hard. That really helped me a lot.”

Things haven’t come easy to the boy from Chandernagore, Hooghly. Two years ago, he went to the U-19 World Cup as part of the pace bowling trio with Shivam Mavi and Kamlesh Nagarkoti. But in the first match against the Australia colts, he bruised his heel and hobbled off the field. He came back to the fold all right, but by then, Mavi and Nagarkoti had stolen a march on him, at times hitting 145kph. They were the stars of India’s U-19 World Cup-winning campaign. Kolkata Knight Riders forked out Rs 3 crore for Mavi and Rs 3.2 crore for Nagarkoti at the 2018 IPL auction. But injuries ruled out Nagarkoti for two IPL seasons running, while Mavi, too, missed last year’s edition due to a lower-back stress fracture. In fact, Nagarkoti hasn’t played competitive cricket for two years now. Mavi, on the other hand, featured in just one Ranji Trophy match for Uttar Pradesh this term.

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Porel will play the IPL this year, as a Rs 20 lakh buy for Kings XI Punjab. But back in 2018, he was playing catch-up. “It was important to stay humble, down to earth and keep working hard. Fast bowlers will have to deal with injuries. You can’t avoid it. You have to minimise it. The rehab I did at the NCA for three months was very crucial for me. The NCA trainers and physios backed me a lot. They kept telling me not to worry about the IPL contracts,” Porel said.

He has matured enough to deal with bowling on placid pitches. He did it here against Odisha with a heavily-strapped ankle – a minor twist – and returned with three wickets in the first innings. By his own admission, Porel now handles the new ball better. “Earlier, I was a very bad bowler with the new ball. I always preferred to bowl with the older ball because I have natural reverse swing. Now the new-ball part has improved. Once again, becoming physically stronger has helped.”