Himachal benefitting from grooming home-grown players, says Ankit Kalsi

Ankit Kalsi is a notable omission from Himachal Pradesh’s (HP) squad for the Vijay Hazare Trophy this season. A hamstring tear ahead of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy put paid to his white-ball season, as he took more than two months to recover. Now he is following his team’s progress in Jaipur from his own State where he is playing an inter-district tournament.  

On Tuesday, HP made it to the semifinals for the first time in six years. Although Rishi Dhawan wasn’t at the forefront of the win for once, it could be said he has been his team’s talisman in recent days, performing with bat and ball game after game. 

Kalsi, who has played with him for all of his career so far with the State side, says the captain inspires his team. 

“He’s always asking us to look to play for the national team rather than just stay at the first-class level,” Kalsi told Sportstar.

READ: Vijay Hazare Trophy: Galetia, Chopra send Himachal Pradesh into semifinals

 “He’s motivating us to look at the bigger picture. And that’s important because I personally feel that if you’re just looking to survive at the first-class level, you’ll disappear from here also. And if you’re looking to play for India, only then are you going to maintain a standard,” he said. 

The semifinal berth was one more feather in the cap for Dhawan, after the quarterfinal finish in the preceding T20s. The State’s success in recent years is a much bigger story than one man, however – it can no longer be termed as a cricketing backwater. 

“First of all, a big thanks to Anurag Thakur (former president of HPCA) who has given us so many facilities, and such good facilities. But I feel the biggest reason for our success is: about 90 percent of our senior team is from the home-grown U-19 team that played in 2010, and that includes myself,” Kalsi explained. 

“Until a few years ago, our State team used to have a few professional players from outside States, and it didn’t work. Now, they’ve started to back their own players.”

READ: Vijay Hazare Trophy: Tamil Nadu decimates Karnataka in quarterfinals

“Now, many members of our team are the same players who played U-19 together, including myself, Prashant Chopra, Nikhil Gangta and Akash Vasisht. About six-eight players are the same group that played the Cooch Behar Trophy; so we know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. We trust each other and we back each other. And it’s made a huge difference,” Kalsi said. 

A batter known more for his grafting skills than belligerence, Kalsi made waves in 2018-19 as a 25-year-old when he hit a purple patch, scoring 511 runs in five matches in the Ranji Trophy. He was made captain the following year. 

Kalsi’s long wait to play domestic cricket after the pandemic extended further when he tore his hamstring. “For my rehab, I trained at Dharamsala stadium itself. It was pretty frustrating: I couldn’t run, work out at the gym, or even bat. For the inter-district tournament, I was holding the bat after two months, wondering how I was going to perform.” 

His worries would have eased a bit with his run of form – he is currently playing his third match since making a comeback to cricket, and has racked up about 400 runs already. 

With a successful white-ball season and a powerful weapon waiting to make an impact in the all-important red-ball season, HP can look up to many more good days ahead. 

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