When two UAE-based students were asked if they could take a break from their studies to go and live and train with Kolkata Knight Riders instead, the answers they gave were swift and predictable.
They started with: are you serious? And were promptly followed by: yes. Yes, please.
The relocating of the Indian Premier League to the UAE for a second time in two years has brought a number of logistical challenges for the teams.
When the franchise’s team manager asked Oscar Nauhaus, the head coach of Zayed Cricket Academy, if he could recommend anyone, he knew exactly who to call.
Nauhaus got on WhatsApp to two fast bowlers and former captains of ZCA, Raees Ayan, 21, and Sailles Jaishankar, 18.
“At first I could not believe him, and even now, it is like a fan-boy moment for me,” Ayan said. “I can’t believe that I am here with the players.”
Jaishankar, too, jumped at the chance, which he describes as a “privilege”.
“When Oscar asked if I wanted to be a net bowler, I said, ‘Of course’ and took the opportunity with both hands,” Jaishankar said.
“It is a privilege to be in the same environment as these guys. More than anything, I was just grateful for the opportunity. This sort of thing doesn’t come along that often.”
The duo have been in the team bio-bubble in Abu Dhabi since the end of last month, and will stay until the action gets under way next week. And, according to their coach, they have been doing their home town proud.
“From my side, it was simple and straightforward because they are two kids with good attitudes, who will put the work in and learn,” Nauhaus said.
“They can be trusted to do themselves justice. I am in contact with them every day or two, making sure they are OK, but KKR have looked after them really well.
“I’ve seen them bowling and obviously they are not as quick as 25-26 year old men, but they have been holding their own.”
Coincidentally, both players have coming back from serious injuries over the past year or so.
Ayan suffered a stress fracture in his lower back near the start of the pandemic, while Jaishankar had five months out with an Achilles complaint.
The latter, who now lives in Dubai and dovetails his studies at Heriot-Watt University with being a cricket scholar at the ICC Academy, is thankful to have a stint training with his heroes.
“The training sessions have been amazing,” said Jaishankar, who is aspiring to represent the UAE at the Under 19 World Cup next year.
“We have got some really good tips from the pace bowlers who are around us.
“I bowled to one of my idols, Dinesh Karthik. To be able to bowl five overs at him, I was really grateful for the opportunity. It was a great feeling when I nicked him off once.
“He is a really nice guy, someone who treats everyone the same, and doesn’t see the status of a person. He is good to everyone.”
Ayan, too, says he managed to get the prize scalp of wicketkeeper-turned-commentator-extraordinaire Karthik, after his return from the UK to join his IPL franchise.
As much of a thrill as that was, Ayan said he did his best to suppress it. “Obviously the celebration has to be inward,” Ayan, who is studying for a commerce degree in his time away from cricket, said. “You can’t celebrate getting a wicket.”
Both of the players say they have found a like mind in Kuldeep Yadav, the India spinner, given that they have whiled away time with him by playing Fifa.
And the whole experience has steeled their ambition to one day make it back to the IPL as players in their own right.
“Any Indian’s dream is to represent the country, or to play at franchise level,” Jaishankar said.
“Looking at our idols playing in the IPL, and now being in the bubble with them, seeing how they go about things, it is obviously a dream to want to do that, too. Having done this, even more so.”