Ranji Trophy: IPL star Basil Thampi makes the red ball count, puts Kerala in control

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Kerala’s Basil Thampi returned with his career-best first-class figures of 4/57 on the first day of the Ranji Trophy match against Bengal at Eden Gardens on Tuesday. (PTI Photo) 

CM Deepak watched the first day’s play of the Bengal versus Kerala Ranji Trophy match at Eden Gardens on Tuesday on the digital platform Hotstar. He hardly missed a ball. Fixing his attention on Basil Thampi, the former Kerala ‘keeper-batsman was revelling in the young fast bowler’s red-ball cricket adaptation.

At Swantons cricket club in Cochin, Deepak was Thampi’s erstwhile team mate. He gradually became Thampi’s mentor. The hardest part of the mentoring process, as Deepak would recall, was to convince Thampi to take first-class/red-ball cricket seriously. It wasn’t all plain sailing. Today at Eden, the 25-year-old quick returned with his career-best first-class figures yet – 4/57 from 16.2 overs. He had a three-for against Andhra in the last game. Thampi is slowly but steadily getting into the red-ball groove.

Thampi made his name in the Indian Premier League. His ability to bowl yorkers and handle death overs helped him earn a Rs 95-lakh contract with Sunrisers Hyderabad in the last edition of the tournament. First-class cricket, however, is a different ball game. Thampi was “reluctant” to learn the art of bowling with the red ball. Deepak’s mentoring and Tinu Yohannan’s – the former India seamer, who is also associated with Swantons – coaching started to change things. Thampi’s career now seems to be moving in the right direction.

“He was basically a tennis-ball cricketer. In tennis ball cricket, it was all like bowling yorkers and change of pace. So he sort of seamlessly fitted into the white-ball formats, when he started playing serious cricket. For red-ball, it was about adjusting the length. His pace was natural and reverse swing had been one of his strengths since he was a youngster. But he didn’t have the confidence to bowl long spells with the red ball.

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“For the first couple of seasons in the Ranji Trophy he would bowl like a four-over spell, he would finish off like an eight-nine overs spell in a day. That had to be changed. He is a lot more match fit now. He has worked on his endurance. For the last couple of years he has been training at the MRF Pace Foundation. Physically he was a very strong boy, but he didn’t have the endurance. Working on it has benefitted him,” Deepak said, speaking to The Indian Express.

Confidence, or the lack of it, used to be Thampi’s biggest obstacle with regard to his first-class career. He felt uncomfortable out of his natural habitat. “Basically, it was about getting his mindset right. He was only focused on T20. He wasn’t too keen on net bowling, although he used to do a lot of physical training. The challenge was to make him aware that Test cricket is the ultimate and for that he will have to do well in the Ranji Trophy. Tinu took him under his wings and insisted on bowling the right length with a red ball. I was talking to him constantly that he will have to become a good bowler in first-class cricket. Tinu took care of the technical aspects. And gradually he started to realise the value of the long-form,” Deepak recounted.

Thampi joined Swantons at the age of 18. After playing the U-19s, he wanted to quit cricket and migrate to Dubai to help his family. “It was when we decided to send him to Chemplast in Chennai. Tinu was that time coaching Chemplast. Thampi didn’t know then what was lying ahead, how good he was. At Chemplast he bowled to the likes of Murali Vijay and S Badrinath at the nets. They felt Thampi was good enough to play for Tamil Nadu. That helped him realise how good he was. It proved to be the turning point,” Deepak said.

Today, Thampi bowled the red-ball length, notwithstanding the fact that he was still maybe a couple of feet short. He dismissed Koushik Ghosh with a back-of-a-length delivery that took the outside edge and went to KB Arun Karthik at second slip. In this third spell he accounted for Vivek Singh with a fullish ball that once again moved and took the outside edge to VA Jagadeesh at first slip. The next delivery was a ripper that caught Mohammed Shami plumb in front. The fast and straight delivery that nipped back a little was too good for a lower-order batsman.

The lead-up of this Ranji match was all about Shami’s 15-over per innings cap set by the BCCI and his absence in training on the match eve. Shami landed in Kolkata late on Monday and took the field after a short pre-match net bowling. But Thampi was the star of the day, who removed Mukesh Kumar to bag his fourth.

The Eden surface has decent grass. Thampi gleefully bent his back. “This is the best pitch I got in the last four years. It made us really excited. Yes, I wasn’t too comfortable with the red-ball earlier. I used to bowl short-of-length. Now I’m a lot more comfortable. I bowled full and catches to slips attested that,” Thampi said after the day’s play.
Kerala won a good toss and bundled the hosts out for 147. They finished the day on 35/1, weathering one fiery spell from Shami.

Lip service

After the day’s play Bengal captain Manoj Tiwary and Kerala’s Rohan Prem got involved in what appeared a heated altercation. It felt like both were going beyond the ‘elite honesty’ level and the umpires had to intervene to separate the duo. Match referee Shakti Singh, however, didn’t read too much into the incident.
Brief scores: Bengal 147 in 56.2 overs (Anustup Majumdar 53; Basil Thampi 4/57, M Nidheesh 3/22) vs Kerala 35/1 in 12 overs