I enjoy it: Naveen-ul-Haq on the ‘Kohli…Kohli’ taunts | Cricbuzz.com

Naveen dismissed Rohit Sharma and responded to the taunting crowd with a pointed celebration.

For the last 25 days, everywhere Naveen-ul-Haq has played, chants of ‘Kohli, Kohli’ have followed him. A heated exchange of words with the RCB stalwart during their fixture in Lucknow on May 1 kicked off a furore among fans across stadiums in India. They took it upon themselves to taunt the Afghanistan pacer every time he came on to bowl, bat or even field at the boundary line, and Wednesday was no different.

Krunal Pandya bowled three overs of spin up front and got hammered by both Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan, setting up the mood for the crowd that came in big numbers to support the five-time champions. Krunal course-corrected and threw the ball to Naveen, sparking widespread chants of Kohli. For his fluent start, even Rohit was being cheered on but the moment Naveen walked up to his run up, the crowd shifted. ‘Kohli… Kohli’ resonated around the stadium even when Naveen ran in to bowl in the fourth over.

On the second ball of that over, Naveen had Rohit Sharma caught at cover and responded to the taunting crowd with a pointed celebration of drowning the noise out with the gesture of putting two fingers in his ears. This back and forth jibing between the Chepauk crowd and Naveen became the theme of the first innings.

“I enjoy it,” Naveen said of the chanting. “I like that everybody in the ground is chanting his name, or any other player’s name. It gives me passion to play well for my team.”

“I don’t concentrate on the outside noise. I just focus on my own cricket. It’s not like if the crowd is chanting or anyone is saying something… it doesn’t affect me. As professional sportsmen you have to take it in your stride. One day you will not do your best for the team and these fans are going to give it to you. On another day, you’ll do a special thing for your team and the same people are going to chant your name,” Naveen added.

Fans around the country may not want to see Naveen beyond his theatrics from that day, but the Afghanistan pacer has quietly had a fine season which he finished off with 11 wickets – four of them coming on Wednesday.

Even after LSG dismissed both openers inside the PowerPlay, MI flew with a stand between two of their best hitters in Cameron Green and Suryakumar Yadav. The pair smashed eight fours and three sixes in a 66-run partnership off 38 balls as Krunal struggled to place adequate fields to stop the leak. He soon turned to Naveen in the 11th over and reaped instant rewards once again.

As both batters were confidently hitting through line on a surface that was occasionally assisting change of pace, Naveen unfurled two cutters – one leg, one off – to stop them in their tracks. The leg cutter bowled at 107.3 kmph worked against Suryakumar, who looked to loft one down the ground but didn’t cover for the lack of pace. The result was a miscue that had height but not the distance and was caught at long off. Green got one that turned the other way a touch and was even slower at 104.9 kmph and breached the big batter’s defence to knock back the stumps.

“You assess the conditions. You see the conditions, what they offer. I think the pitch was offering a bit of help,” Naveen opined. “It wasn’t like we were bowling 3-4 slower ones in an over but just to keep the batters guessing, you have to vary your pace and vary your line and length. It comes with T20, it’s a fast format and you have to adjust quickly and be a step ahead of the batter.”

At the death, he had to deal with the left-handed pair of Tilak Varma and Nehal Wadhera. In the 18th over, he looked to go full and outside the off-stump against the pair and ended up bowling three wides to Varma. Yet he kept at it, and took the pace off once again (105.3 kmph) when the southpaw launched into it and hit it to Deepak Hooda at long-off.

His spell of 4 for 38 kept LSG in the game at the halfway stage before their batting imploded against Akash Madhwal’s five-wicket haul. Naveen yet walks away with a solid first season, which he hopes to learn from and return stronger.

“To be honest, it [his season] was good. We could’ve done better as a team. Individual performances don’t count. At the end of the day, our team goal was to win the trophy. My individual performance comes second. It was a good season for me, I learnt quite a few things from this IPL and hopefully [I’ll] come back stronger,” he said.