An injury to Indian fast bowler Mohammed Shami ahead of the only Test against Afghanistan, starting June 14 in Bengaluru, led to a call-up for Navdeep Saini, a right-arm fast bowler from Delhi who has never played for India before.
Saini has come off a very good Ranji Trophy season for Delhi, where he finished as the team’s leading wicket-taker with 34 wickets in eight games and joint fourth-highest overall for the 2017-18 season. He was picked by Royal Challengers Bangalore during the 2018 auction but didn’t get a game.
The 25 year old from Karnal, Haryana, started by playing tennis ball tournaments. He later moved to Delhi for his cricket and in an interview to ESPNcricinfo he was very grateful to Gautam Gambhir in particular for guiding him through the initial years.
Saini made his first-class debut in 2013-14 and only managed two games for Delhi that season. Injuries were a problem in the early part of his career. In 2017, Saini was picked for the India A squad for the tour of South Africa and he was also part of the A squad that hosted New Zealand.
The semi-final of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy saw him give his best performance. Against Bengal, he took 3 for 55 in the first innings, and 4 for 35 in the second innings to send Bengal crashing to 86, giving Delhi an innings victory. He took 5 for 135 in the final, but Delhi failed to beat Vidarbha.
Saini finds himself in an Indian Test squad competing with Umesh Yadav, Hardik Pandya, Shardul Thakur and Ishant Sharma for a place. He may not make the XI, but at least it will be a reward for a successful season with the red ball.