How Ish Sodhi learned to stop worrying and love his bowling

"In the last year, I've worked really hard on understanding my action and to see how I can be at my wicket-taking best irrespective of situations" Getty Images

In 2012, as a young legspinner straight out of playing the Under-19 World Cup for New Zealand, Ish Sodhi vowed to make his senior debut at the 2019 World Cup. But a year later, he had already made his Test debut.

Today, at 24, with 14 Tests and 30 limited-overs games, including a World T20 campaign, under his belt, Sodhi is an experienced international, not only in the number of matches he has played but also in the maturity he has gained from his time in and out of the New Zealand team.

Sodhi is now back playing for the A team in India, where four years ago he impressed the selectors with his ability to bowl long spells even though he took only two wickets in two four-day games. He took a five-for in his first innings back, against India A in Vijayawada, a spell that has eased his constant worries about being an effective wicket-taker.

Next month New Zealand will tour India for a limited-overs series. Nine players have been named in the squad, including 25-year-old left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner, but six other slots will be filled by those currently touring the country with the A team. Sodhi will be aiming for a recall after missing the Champions Trophy in June.

However, at the start of last year, he was full of self-doubt. His action "seemed off". His confidence was low. "I was falling over, my body alignment didn't seem right and I was bowling too short," he tells ESPNcricinfo.

"I wanted to be able to spin the ball and be accurate. For a while, I didn't feel comfortable doing both. I wasn't in control of my bowling. There was a long run of games where I didn't feel like I was training enough or bowling enough. Maybe I was focusing on things that didn't matter. I felt like I had to work on my action and understand it. I've gone away, done quite a bit of work. That has, in turn, made me a lot more confident."

Sodhi says it was the years he spent believing he wasn't an attacking option for the team that led to him feeling under-confident.

"I'm 24. For the next ten years, if I keep getting frustrated at not being selected, I'm not going to be a happy cricketer. If I keep trying to get better, when I get my chance, I'd be a lot more in control and better suited to deal with it"

First it was the battle of trying to be the second spinner behind Daniel Vettori. And after Vettori retired, Sodhi had to stave off competition from Santner, Jeetan Patel and Todd Astle for the lead spinner's slot. When opportunities came, he was largely summoned to hold one end up.

"I had to not just deal with it but find ways to become effective when chances came up," he says.

"In the last year, I've worked really hard on understanding my action and to see how I can be at my wicket-taking best irrespective of situations. Prior to that, for a year or so, I found myself bowling really, really fast. It didn't quite work. Instead of worrying about what the batsman is doing, I've focused on what I can do from the top of my mark till my release point. A five-wicket haul here in India is pleasing and reassuring that the methods I've adopted have started to bear fruit."

The turning point, he says, came on the Test tour of India last year. Sodhi was dropped after just one Test, but was able to learn how he could be valuable to the team.

"You look at R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bowl. The way they bowl is fantastic, but in trying to emulate their methods, I realised I was losing out on the strengths that got me into the team.

"It's not about bowling like them but being at your best and competitive the way you are back home. For a while, I got into thinking, 'These guys are successful at doing this. I have to also do it'. But you really have do just do what you're good at."

Not wanting to sit out and brood over being dropped, he sought out Anil Kumble, his childhood hero and India's coach at the time.

"He [Kumble] talked about changes of pace, lengths, stuff you wouldn't think of in New Zealand because on green wickets you're just doing holding roles," Sodhi says.

"He spoke of being competitive and finding ways to explore your own strengths in different conditions and in different scenarios. He spoke of his experiences and how he overcame challenges. It would have been great to have more time with him, but he was the coach of the opposition, so I didn't want to pester him too much, but he was extremely helpful."

The chat with Kumble also gave Sodhi a perspective on selection. He only played two T20Is and two ODIs in a packed 2016-2017 home season for New Zealand, but stopped worrying about the opportunities he was not getting.

"You want to play as many as you can. I was worried about playing all the time and getting selected that I forgot I needed to improve on my skill. This is one area I got good at. It didn't bother me anymore after the winter tours.

"It made the frustration a lot easier to deal with. I'm 24. For the next ten years, if I keep getting frustrated at not being selected, I'm not going to be a happy cricketer. If I keep trying to get better, when I get my chance, I'd be a lot more in control and better suited to deal with it."

Sodhi used the time to play in the Big Bash League, taking nine wickets in three games, including a career-best 6 for 11, for Adelaide Strikers.

"That was a big realisation that I can get results by being an attacking and aggressive spin-bowling option."

Conversations with Brad Hodge, his franchise captain, helped ease his apprehensions further.

"What I got out of him was learning to play with a lot of freedom. He got till about 42-43, so that's experience: 20 years of cricketing and life experience. I was tapping his brain as much as I could. It was about enjoying playing free cricket. I guess that's a common trend when you talk to the greats of the game, the ones who are successful these days. The more you play, in New Zealand we don't play much cricket as compared to say India, UK or Australia. Whether that's an excuse, I don't know."

Sodhi is pragmatic about the options limited-overs cricket offers and the financial rewards it brings, but says the satisfaction of winning sessions and eventually Tests is what he wishes to derive out of his career.

"It's hard to not deny how white-ball cricket is taking importance these days, commercially and financially. But the pinnacle is still Tests. Once you win a T20, you come off excited and happy. Then you move on to the next game. But when you play and win a Test, you sit there on day five and enjoy a rewarding feeling. That is what drives me and will do so for the next ten years or so."

Sodhi looks back at his four-year journey of ups and downs with pride. The lessons "he wouldn't trade for anything" and the experiences of witnessing different cultures that come with touring have been eye-opening.

"It's been amazing, having played in different countries and having played against my childhood heroes - Ross Taylor, Daniel Vettori, Shiv Chanderpaul, Younis Khan - I grew up admiring them. Now I've bowled to all of them too.

"I kept telling friends that I want to debut in the 2019 World Cup. It's 2017 now and I've played a fair bit of international cricket already. In four years, I'll have a far better understanding and my eight-year journey may look different. Wickets may not always come, but if I become a better version of myself from the previous day, there can be no bigger personal satisfaction."