The young Jeet Raval, born in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, would probably have never thought that one day he would be playing for the Blackcaps—New Zealand’s national cricket team. Raised in a traditional joint family in India, Jeet developed the passion for the sport in the backyard of his house where he played cricket with his cousins.

At the age of 16, Jeet moved to New Zealand with his parents. Just like any other migrant, he went through initial struggles trying to adjust to the new culture and language. But it wasn’t too long before he picked up his bat again and hit the field. He started playing cricket for Avondale College and Suburbs New Lynn Club.

Jeet recently rose to fame when he played his first international Test match for his country. He says that people call his wife Surabhi, whom he married in May 2016, his lucky charm and he cannot agree with them more.

Indian Weekender spoke to the rising star to know more about his journey.

IWK: How was your experience playing for the national team recently?

Jeet: It was an amazing experience playing for the Blackcaps. There is no better feeling than receiving your test cap for the first time and walking out on the field to sing the national anthem with your teammates.

I was emotional thinking of my family, all the sacrifices they have made for me to realise my dream, and the years of hard work. And then to go out and make contributions towards us winning a series against number two test side in the world was a whole new experience—one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. It was a wonderful beginning.  

IWK: How and when did you develop an interest in cricket? Who is your idol?

Jeet: From what I have been told, I started playing cricket as soon as I could walk. I grew up playing gully cricket with my cousins. It wasn’t until the 1996 Cricket World Cup that I started to follow the game more seriously. My dad put me in a coaching clinic where I learnt the basic techniques of the game.

My dad used to play volleyball at the same time, and he took me to one his training sessions. Near his volleyball training session, I spotted Shree Vidyanagar High School’s cricket team training and asked my dad if I could bowl to them. My dad asked the team coach, Praful Tailor, and he agreed. The coach liked what he saw and offered me to join the school so I could play for the team. This is how I got into cricket, and the opportunities opened up from there.

I have had quite a few idols over the years. I always admired Sachin (Tendulkar). He was God’s gift to India, and I was fortunate to have witnessed his batting on TV. I also admire Sourav Ganguly. I am a left-handed batsman, so I tried to bat like Ganguly. During recent years, I have admired Rahul Dravid and Michael Hussey. Both of these mentally tough guys epitomise the definition of hard work, determination, grit, and sheer concentration required to succeed in cricket. And it is not just on the field. I admire them for the way they have carried themselves off the field in a humble and genuine way.

IWK: Please tell us about your cricket experience back in India.

Jeet: I played cricket for Gujarat Under-15 and Under-17 team. I started out as a medium-fast bowler in my first match against Mumbai Under-15. I didn’t bowl well in that match, but I managed to score 21 runs batting at number 9 and almost saved the match for our team. For the next match, my coach asked me to bat at number 4, and I scored a century at Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, in Ahmedabad.

Since then, I gave up bowling and concentrated on batting. I have played against the likes of Ravindra Jadeja, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara as they are all from the same age group. They were the big guns in the opposition teams at the time, and they have rightly gone on to do well for the Indian cricket team.

IWK: Tell us about your journey from a cricket-lover schoolboy to the National team batsman.

Jeet: It has been a long journey and one that has had a lot of ups and downs. After performing well for Avondale College and Suburbs New Lynn cricket club in late 2004, I was selected for Auckland age group sides Under-17 and Under-19. Playing for Auckland Under-19 was a big stepping stone back, as it allowed for an opportunity to be selected for the prestigious New Zealand Under-19 cricket team. I was selected for the team to participate in the ICC Under-19 cricket world cup held in Malaysia, which India ended up winning.

I later found out that I had not been in the country for long enough to represent New Zealand at the international stage. It restricted my participation in the Under-19 world cup, which was a major setback in terms of proving my worth against my peers around the world.

Two years later, I made my first debut for the Auckland Aces against the touring West Indies team, and later that season I played my first domestic match against Central District where I scored 256. That was the highlight of my career until this recent test series victory against Pakistan.

After a strong season for the Aces last year, I was selected for the Blackcaps to tour Zimbabwe and South Africa in July this year.

Jeet Raval in field

IWK: What do you think about the current line-up of the Blackcaps? Do you think we need more Kiwi-Indian players in the team?

Jeet: This Blackcaps team is strong in every facet of the game, and I am sure it will continue to entertain Kiwi fans for a long time. I wouldn’t say we need more Kiwi-Indian players in the team, but it should be encouraging for Kiwi-Indian cricketers to pursue their cricketing dreams after seeing the likes of Ish Sodhi, Jeetan Patel playing for the Blackcaps.

IWK: Who are your personal favourites in the Indian cricket team? And what do you think about Virat Kohli’s captaincy?

Jeet: My personal favourites in current Indian team are Virat Kohli and Ravichandran Ashwin. Both of them are extremely hard working and have an incredible level of skill.

I enjoy Kohli’s captaincy. He is a positive captain who leads by example. It seems as he has the ability to bring the best out of every single player, and he also engages the crowd in the battle.

IWK: You were also selected for the Zimbabwe and South Africa tour. How was the experience?

Jeet: It was a wonderful experience touring Africa with the Blackcaps. Although I did not play any match on the tour, I got an opportunity to learn about the team dynamics and also had a first-hand experience of international cricket. It can be daunting when you first go in the set-up, but I became familiar with the training routines, game day set-up, etc.

Blackcaps

IWK: The Indian community in New Zealand is proud of your selection in the national team. Any message to the community?

Jeet: All I would like to say is that New Zealand is a land of opportunities. You will get your share of success if you are willing to work hard and not give up through tough times. Whatever you may be interested in, I would say set goals, work hard, seek professional guidance, and enjoy the journey.