Choudhary thrilled to be part of 'idol' Kohli's team
Aniket Choudhary had a routine start to his Monday morning, with a session in the nets. The 27-year old left-arm pacer from Rajasthan did not watch the IPL auction, not even when a few hours later, his life changed as he was bought by Royal Challengers Bangalore for INR 2 crores, 20 times his base price.
It was the latest high in an eventful last few months for Choudhary, beginning from September when he travelled with the India Test team to help them prepare for the New Zealand series. That was followed by a successful run in the inter-state T20s, a return to the India A side after three-and-a-half years, and a second invitation to the India nets ahead of the Australia series.
Choudhary would later watch a video of the moment, recorded by his brother, but at the time of the bid, he was bowling to the man who will captain him in the IPL. "I was bowling to Virat Kohli, and it was the Indian team management that informed me," Choudhary told ESPNcricinfo. "He congratulated me and welcomed me to the RCB family."
Choudhary had been quietly hopeful of getting picked, but deep down, this was the team he wanted to get into. He "always liked RCB", but it was the experience of watching Kohli during his short time with the Indian team that made him want to be a part of the Bangalore franchise.
"I was blown away by Virat's attitude. I felt so good seeing him that I felt if I play with him, naturally my game would also improve," Choudhary told ESPNcricinfo. "I idolise Virat. The way he goes about his game, his hunger, focus and the positivity he brings along - there is a lot to learn.
"It's hard to express the feeling I had when I was picked. I had been bowling for a very long time, but with this news, all the tiredness just vanished. All of a sudden, I was re-energised and felt like I could keep going."
Choudhary had no extravagant plans to spend his newfound riches. "I'll spend it in a good way, invest in my fitness. I'll probably hire a good trainer or a good physio."
The tall and burly Choudhary's desire to get fitter can perhaps be traced back to a serious right hamstring injury he suffered in the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy, which he says made him want to prove himself and get mentally tougher. It put him out for five months, with much of the time spent in trips to Mumbai for treatment. As he recuperated, he had a stint at the MRF Pace Foundation, where he received lessons from Glenn McGrath and M Senthilnathan, the head coach, on the importance of training regularly to minimise injuries. The difference has been substantial.
"Training there improved my pace. For two years before that, I hadn't played any live [on TV] matches, so I had no idea what pace I was bowling at. But when I played the live matches, I was bowling at above 140 in the (inter-zonal) T20, I even hit 145. It was a sign of improvement. Previously, I was bowling at 135-140, but touching 145 is a big deal in India. Very few people do it and it was motivating for me."
It was perhaps the improved pace which led to the call-up for the India nets. Choudhary travelled with them for the first two Tests against New Zealand in Kanpur and Kolkata. The move was reportedly to help them prepare for Trent Boult, and now before Australia, Mitchell Starc, both left-arm seamers. But Choudhary did not recall being told any such thing.
"Each bowler has a unique action. All I can say is our height (his and Starc's) is similar, so we generate the same bounce," he said. "And both of us are left-armers, so we may work similar angles, it may be similar in that sense."
While he finds movement off the surface, Choudhary's strength is pace and bounce. Having a six-foot-four frame helps, and his bouncer was also praised by Kohli. "He told me that my bouncer is good and asked me to focus on that and keep it handy," Choudhary said.
The bounce also helped him claim four wickets against the visiting Bangladesh team in a warm-up match in Hyderabad, a few weeks before the auction. "The key was to not over-try. Had they not declared (at 224 for 8), I would have got five wickets."
Choudhary had his first feel of the cricket ball only when he was in class 10. Originally from Bikaner, his family moved to Jaipur to facilitate his older brother's IIT training as well as Choudhary's cricket. Choudhary enrolled in the Surana Cricket Academy, which is among the more famous ones in Jaipur.
Greg Chappell, then an advisor to the RCA's Centre of Excellence, spotted Choudhary's potential in 2008, and the bowler also benefitted from working with former South Africa fast bowler Meyrick Pringle, who was working with a local academy and was also Rajasthan's bowling coach during their Ranji Trophy title win in 2011-12. Working with Pringle, Choudhary said, improved his pace and accuracy.
"When Rajasthan became Ranji champions for the first time (in 2010-11), I used to go to the nets to bowl," Choudhary said. "There, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and the rest saw me and they were impressed. And the next year, when I came back after working with Meyrick Pringle sir, they were shocked at the improvement I had made. Shortly after that, they got me to debut in Ranji Trophy."
Choudhary had been looking forward to learning from Starc but the Australia pacer parted ways with the franchise on the eve of the auction. The Indian bowler, however, is happy to tap into another source of knowledge.
"Tymal Mills is considered a T20 specialist, I will definitely pick his brains - how he delivers his slower one, how to read a batsman," he said.
In a way, it would seem Royal Challengers have found a replacement left-arm seamer after Starc's departure, but that is not how Choudhary looks at it. "If that is the case, then it's a very big thing," he said with a laugh. "But I don't think that's true.
"If I get a chance, I would definitely want to do well for Royal Challengers. Playing Test cricket for India is my aim and doing well here will take me one step closer."
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo