'It’s my dream to represent India in all three formats' - Kumar Kushagra speaks up on future plans and meeting with MS Dhoni

Kumar Kushagra's explosive knock of 132 with 14 boundaries, propelled Jharkhand to a total of 316 in their first innings against Services.

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Kumar Kushagra
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Kumar Kushagra. (Photo Source: X(Twitter)

Amid the bone-chilling cold wave that has gripped the national capital, young talent, Kumar Kushagra, seems impervious to the icy winds. Hailing from Jamshedpur in Jharkhand, the 19-year-old wicketkeeper-batter made headlines just a day after earning a call-up to the India A squad. His fiery century against Services in the ongoing Ranji Trophy 2024 season at the Palam Air Force Ground showcased both resilience and skill.

Jharkhand found themselves in a dire situation at 65 for four when Kushagra came to the crease to join his captain, Virat Singh. The duo's exceptional 171-run partnership for the fifth wicket turned the tide in Jharkhand's favour, with Singh contributing a commendable 108. Kushagra's explosive knock of 132 with 14 boundaries, propelled Jharkhand to a total of 316 in their first innings.

Facing challenging conditions in the cold environs of Delhi, where seaming conditions and gusty winds added to the difficulty, Kushagra reflected on his approach after the day's play, stating,

“Playing in Delhi in the cold is tricky. Seaming conditions and the impact of the wind and we were four down. So, my aim was to stay out there and get runs on the board. Even I had the same conversation with Virat [Singh] Bhaiyya that we can have a partnership, we can take the team to a comfortable position. So, that was the basic idea. Runs kept coming in and eventually, we reached the milestones."

The century came within 24 hours of Kushagra being named in the India A squad for the upcoming games against the England Lions. The young cricketer sees this call-up as a golden opportunity to realize his dream of representing the country.

“Getting picked for India A is a good opportunity for me. I’ve been playing the red-ball format for some days now. Yes, I got an IPL contract but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t focus on the longer format. So, it is a huge opportunity and if I can utilize it properly, it will only help me fulfill my dream of playing for the country," he added.

Reflecting on his earlier exploits, Kushagra reminisced about rescuing Jharkhand in the 2021-22 season with a gritty half-century against Tamil Nadu and a massive 266 in the pre-quarterfinals against Nagaland. Expressing his desire to become an all-format player for India, he acknowledged the challenges but remained steadfast in his dream.

“Becoming an all-format player, especially in India, is not that easy. Some players are specialists in a specific format, but it takes extra effort to become an all-format player. But for me, it’s my dream to represent India in all three formats,” he said.

Understanding the complexities of keeping on Indian tracks, Kushagra seeks advice from experts like Wriddhiman Saha and Ravindra Jadeja.

“Be it spinners or the fast bowlers, keeping on India tracks is never easy. And if you are dreaming big then obviously, it needs hard work. So, I keep learning new things and applying them in my practice. I keep speaking to different keepers. I met Wriddhi da at Kolkata airport where I asked him what improvements I can make. In fact, I met Ravindra Jadeja at the NCA and spoke to him about how to tackle spinner from behind the wickets,” Kushagra added.

The pressure will be there but that doesn’t affect my personal goal: Kushagra

Having recently bagged a staggering INR 7.2 crore deal with the Delhi Capitals in the IPL auction, Kushagra is excited and a tad nervous about joining a team with cricket luminaries like David Warner and Rishabh Pant. He acknowledges the pressure but remains focused on his ultimate goal of playing for Team India.

“The pressure will be there but that doesn’t affect my personal goal, which playing for India someday. The 7-crore price tag has changed people’s perception towards me, and expectations are high. But the IPL is just the first step towards my dream of playing for Team India,” he added.

Coming from the same state as legendary cricketer MS Dhoni, Kushagra expresses his admiration for the former captain and considers him a role model. While he hasn't had the chance to meet Dhoni yet, he looks forward to learning from him during the IPL.

“I started keeping after watching him only. The fact that he comes from a small city and has influenced players across the world is very inspirational,” Kushagra concluded.

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