Kona Srikar Bharat’s famous last-ball six during the recent Indian Premier League (IPL) remains fresh in public memory. It powered the Royal Challengers Bengaluru (RCB) to a thrilling win over Delhi Capitals (DC) in their league match.
Bharat says, “It was a delightful moment and the team was thrilled with the win.”
The 28-year-old wicketkeeper-batsman was also adjudged ‘Player of the match' for his match-winning innings of an unbeaten 78 off just 52 balls.
During the second Time Out of that match, RCB’s batting consultant Sanjay Bangar had praised his performance and instilled further confidence in him, reveals Bharat. “He said I had done exceptionally well in practice games and this match situation was no different. So that set me thinking and I took a calculated risk.”
RCB and Team India captain Virat Kohli was full of praise for Bharat’s heroics. “He told me, ‘You had a special night; we believed in you. Keep building on this’,” says the spirited youngster.
Lessons from the dugout
He describes his IPL experience as ‘great learning’ and adds that he enjoyed being around great players like Virat Kohli, AB De Villiers, and Glen Maxwell. “There’s been great support from the dugout. They help and nurture all youngsters,” he shares. Bharat finds it amazing, the way players inside the dugout take ownership of the game. “It gave me a greater perspective of the game.”
Playing with the likes of such great cricketers was fantastic, Bharat enthuses, and says Kohli and De Villiers are called legends for a reason. “They obviously expect us to give our best. I was very clear in my approach. I didn’t want to be the second fiddle in the team. I went there to deliver. I want to take up the responsibility and win matches for the team. I am glad that the team believed in me,” he says.
Learning from the best
Bharat likes to experience things himself, rather than get insights by talking to seniors. “When I asked Virat Bhai whether he was independent and learnt things on his own, he said ‘Yes’. He appreciated my approach to the game,” recalls Bharat, adding that Virat always encourages youngsters.
AB De Villiers, Srikar Bharat and Devdutt Padikal share a lighter moment in the RCB dressing room
When we asked what it was like to be playing alongside De Villiers, he says that the conversations were all tactical. “When I and De Villiers were batting, we discussed game strategies,” says Bharat who in May 2021, was added to India's Test squad for the series against England as cover for Wriddhiman Saha.
Bharat feels that if you go well-prepared to be part of the team, you’ll be one step ahead of others. “I don’t have to wait for answers; I have been there with Team India and played at the highest level. So I know my routine, I am always confident,” shares Bharat who became the first wicket-keeper batsman to score a triple hundred in the Ranji Trophy.
One of the reasons for his successful T-20 stint in the IPL, according to Bharat, was the 45 days of practice at the Andhra Cricket Academy under coach Krishna Rao in Vizianagaram during the lockdown. He practiced for about four hours a day and figured out how to go about the game.
“I started to change my approach and take it a few notches higher. I focussed on running between the wickets, power-hitting, fitness, reflexes, etc., during the lockdown. I believe that I have the temperament and can play all the shots,” he says. He was confident he would get an IPL call, and wanted to make sure he was ready, he says, adding, “and I am glad I was.”
Playing cricket during pandemic times has been very challenging, especially in relation to Covid-19 protocols. Before leaving for the IPL in September, Bharat was in the bio bubble for 10 days in Mumbai.
“I feel quarantine gave me enough time to think and reassess myself. I know I am doing well, but I was thinking what more I could do, and how else I could invest my time to contribute,” he reveals, admitting that the quarantine time was very challenging. “My food, sleep cycle, and routines have gone for a toss,” he says, though he feels the time did help him in getting used to the conditions.
One run at a time
Bharat aims to be playing cricket for the next 10 years at the highest level and winning games, whether it be for Team India or the IPL. “I don’t want to be constantly burdened by thoughts about playing for Team India, which is anyway not in our hands. I don’t want to think too far ahead, just take one step at a time,” says Bharat who has now set his sights on the upcoming Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
The flamboyant player married his long-time girlfriend Anjali last year. When asked if she follows cricket, Bharat replies that she’s slowly coming to understand it. He also reveals that her calming effect helped him a lot during the lockdown.
Srikar Bharat and Anjali
“I was constantly talking to her and sharing my thoughts and feelings. She allowed me to go through my emotions and was instrumental in channelising my energy in the right direction, especially during the lockdown,” he says, adding that the little conversations about personality, mindset, positive attitude, etc., with Anjali helped him overcome stress.