Chennai: "At the end of the day, cricket is a very simple game," Robin Bist tells Wisden India, with the conviction of a man who truly believes what he's saying. It's a statement he repeats often – while explaining his approach to batting, while speaking about moving from Delhi to Rajasthan, and while talking about the changes to his game after a chat with Sachin Tendulkar.
Bist, a few days shy of his 25h birthday, hasn't always had it easy, but his self-assurance and belief are evident in the way he conducts himself. It's a belief well founded, with last season being particularly fruitful. Bist topped the Ranji Trophy scoring chart as part of Rajasthan's title-winning team with 1034 runs, and in the season-opening Irani Cup, he was Rajasthan's lone bright spot with knocks of 117 not out and 67 in a heavy defeat.
Bist, who moved from Delhi to Rajasthan as a teenager, doesn't pull punches as he discusses the shift. "I moved because of the politics in DDCA (Delhi and District Cricket Association)," says Bist. "There is a lot of club cricket in Delhi, and each club's secretary is a powerful person. They all want their own boys to play. That's why talent alone is not enough to rise to the top in Delhi. Of course, they've had cricketers like Virender Sehwag, Virat Kohli, Ishant Sharma etc, but they’ve all also gone through this. Maybe the ones who spoke up for them were powerful people, the ones who spoke for me were not."
It's a candid admission, a revealing insight into how things work. Bist scored a lot of runs at the junior level in Delhi, but says he was never picked as part of any representative playing XI.
Bist is a huge fan of Ricky Ponting, the man he considers his batting idol. "He has the ability, and the never-say-die attitude," he says of Ponting. "He's maintained a 50-plus average despite having played for so long, which is incredible."
His other batting inspiration? Unsurprisingly, it's Tendulkar. Except that in Bist's case, there's a personal as well as a professional reason.
Bist was having trouble with his back foot play early on in his innings and during IPL 2011, he went up to Tendulkar to seek advice. "As soon as I said it, he caught on immediately to what was happening," says Bist. "Seriously, he is a God of cricket."
Tendulkar told Bist that a good quick bowler would always attempt to push a batsman on to the back foot initially, but the batsman should not be late on the ball while coming forward due to that reason.
"That was exactly what was happening to me!" recounts Bist, his excitement all too obvious. Tendulkar then livened up the theory class with a practical demonstration. "From five feet away, he threw a ball at me and I moved out of the way," says Bist. "Tendulkar said I had reacted so quickly to a ball from five feet away because I was seeing the ball closely. He told me to never take my eyes off the ball from 22 yards too, to take the ball on my body if I had to. He also said I was having problems because I wasn't going fully back and getting behind the line of the ball.
"I worked for months on just that, and had bruises on my body to show for my efforts. But when things fell in place, it was magic. I still remember in the Irani Cup (of 2011-12), I faced Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron and didn't get beaten while playing back even once. I always thank paaji (Tendulkar) for this. Maybe someone else could have also told this to me, but the way he said it made it very easy to follow."
When he went up to speak to Tendulkar, Bist was diffident, not happy with his form, and had acquired a little bit of a reputation as someone who couldn't convert good starts into big scores. From Rajasthan's first Ranji triumph to their successful defence, Bist underwent a radical change. In 2010-11, Bist had five fifties and 454 runs in first-class cricket. The following year, he had five fifties again, but added four hundreds and scored 1145 runs. The average shot up from 45.4 to 81.8, and the confidence returned.
It's a confidence that enables him to smile as he reflects on how Rajasthan, despite being the defending two-time champions, will not begin favourties when the new Ranji season starts next week. "We are always underdogs," he says. "If we win it again, w'’ll still be underdogs! It's actually good to be the underdog."
Bist has been pigeon-holed as a longer-version player but despite modest numbers – an average of 30 and a strike rate of just over 70 in List A matches, and a strike rate of under 100 in Twenty20 games – he professes to being 'very comfortable' with the shorter formats too.
"If I can play the longer format well, with proper cricketing shots, then I won't have a problem with the shorter formats," he says. "It's good in a way if people think I can't play the shorter formats. It gives me the motivation to overcome that challenge. I'm confident in my ability."
And, he insists, he is ready to play for India? "I am 110 percent ready," he says emphatically. "Mentally and physically. If I play for India, the ball will still be the same. It might be delivered at greater speed and with more skill, but that's it. I have learned one thing — this is a simple game and you have to keep it simple."