42 years old with an IPL dream: The story of Nayan Doshi, the original T20 gun

NICK FRIEND: Doshi's most recent T20 appearance came a decade ago and he last played in the Blast in June 2008 – as a 29-year-old. On the day of the auction, 6,076 days will have passed since his first T20 wicket. But he is determined to give it a go


Before the franchise circuit came to be, there was the Twenty20 Cup. And before an armada of mystery spinners emerged at the forefront of the format, there was Nayan Doshi: the original T20 gun.

In a new world order that was supposed to be the death of spin bowling, he was the first to prove otherwise.

In a dominant Surrey side, he became the world’s first cricketer to the landmark of 50 T20 wickets – in just 29 appearances, 10 months before a ball had been bowled in the Indian Premier League; there was no great secret, only self-belief. Charl Willoughby followed him a fortnight later and 16 further seamers joined an elite group before Muttiah Muralitharan became just the second spinner to the milestone, 23 months after Doshi had set the benchmark.

It makes him a trailblazer of sorts. “I think we showed people that spin could be effective,” he tells The Cricketer. “We made spin a wicket-taking – and match-winning – part of T20. Now it’s in the IPL and other leagues, but we did it here first. We were the guys who did it. We paved the way. Spin bowling in T20? That was us.”

Doshi is 42 now, entering the second year of an unlikely, heartening comeback. For personal reasons, he was forced to leave the game behind in 2014. And although he doesn’t elaborate on the finer details of that period, the loss he felt without the sport is obvious.

“Cricket is the most time-consuming game,” he laughs. “And that’s why a lot of people who don’t play the game at any level don’t understand why we keep talking about it. They don’t play it, so they don’t understand how much cricket takes out of your time. But it’s like a drug. It literally is, but in the most lovely way. You get addicted to it, and it’s one of the healthiest addictions there is.”

He is back because he adores it, perhaps with a nagging sense that he should make up for lost time. “What could make me stop? Probably if I didn’t love playing anymore.”

That day may well exist but only, you sense, in a distant future. For the moment, he is approaching this second wind with a glorious combination of carefree gusto and fervent nonchalance, throwing himself into whatever is accepting applications, but simultaneously conscious that the worst-case scenario is only ever a rejection.


Nayan Doshi was the first player in the world to take 50 T20 wickets

He has entered the upcoming draft for The Hundred and is keen for an opportunity to prove himself once more almost two decades after he first arrived on the scene: a wily left-arm spinner much like his father, Dilip, a fine bowler for India who collected 898 first-class wickets between 1968 and 1986.

“I know I’ve got another five years of real top cricket ahead of me,” he insists. “I know that because of the way I feel. I had to stop playing when I did for circumstances which were not in my control, but that’s all fine now and I’m happy to be back at the tender age of 42. I would love to be involved in the Blast. All I need is for someone to give me a chance.”

This conversation is happening at this juncture, late on Thursday evening, because Doshi finds himself on the IPL's final list ahead of next week’s auction. Frankly, it is a quite remarkable turn of events: he is one of 17 Englishmen included, but the oldest and an absolute standout name alongside Alex Hales, Liam Livingstone, Jason Roy, Moeen Ali, Dawid Malan, Sam Billings, Mark Wood, Adil Rashid, Tom Curran, Ben Duckett, Liam Plunkett, David Willey, Reece Topley, George Garton, Lewis Gregory and Ravi Bopara.

His most recent T20 appearance came a decade ago in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and he last played in the T20 Blast for Derbyshire in June 2008 – as a 29-year-old. On the day of the auction, 6,076 days will have passed since his first T20 wicket – that of Robin Martin-Jenkins – and 3,406 since his last – Irfan Pathan – in 2011.

So, quite simply, how did this happen? “I threw my name in the hat and I’m just really happy that people showed some interest,” explains Doshi. “I don’t know what will happen – I’ve been bowling as well as I’ve ever done and I’m as fit as I’ve ever been. It’s just a question of opportunity – I don’t know if it will come, but let’s wait and see and I’ll enjoy the ride.”

Without an agent to represent him, he filled out his registration form and handed it to the ECB, who walked him through the process, along with the Professional Cricketers’ Association. Another form followed, this time for the BCCI. And since its submission, he has waited – hardly with any great expectation, until now. “And here we are,” he laughs, having found out through a string of messages from excited friends. Naturally, social media has blown up in legitimate surprise at the second-coming of a long-lost county stalwart, but this is no prank or false alarm.

“I did it because I believe in what I’m doing and I believe that what I’m doing is correct,” he stresses.

"A lot of people said T20 would ruin spin bowling" - the story of the early trailblazers who set a trend and changed the game

“I’m more than ready to play at the highest level again. I just need an opportunity, and I’m going to try to get an opportunity wherever I can. You have to throw yourself out there.”

This situation is so intriguing because the list of players who made themselves available for auction initially comprised of 1,114 hopefuls. The 292 remaining candidates have all been shortlisted by at least one team, which means there is genuine interest in Doshi among the franchises.

That alone makes him proud: “It’s always nice to feel appreciated for anything,” he says. “Even if you do something for your children and they appreciate it, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Doshi has been through this system before, representing Royal Challengers Bangalore and Rajasthan Royals between 2010 and 2012. Back then, however, he counted as a local player – this time he would be classed as an overseas recruit.

At RCB, he was a bit-part member of a phenomenal squad of superstars, sharing a dressing room with Jacques Kallis, Rahul Dravid, Kevin Pietersen, Virat Kohli and Dale Steyn. Anil Kumble was his captain: “He’s fantastic and I can’t say enough about what a great man he is,” Doshi recalls. “He was very selfless and generous in the knowledge he passed on. That’s what I really admire about him – he was so easy to talk to. He knew when you were feeling a bit down and he’d sense it.”

His Rajasthan skipper was Shane Warne – “a great thinker of the game, he played on instinct a lot”.

For now, that is all in the past. The present is based at Harman Drive in north-west London, where Doshi now plies his trade.

Playing his club cricket for Brondesbury in the Middlesex County Cricket League, for whom New Zealand wicketkeeper-batsman Glenn Phillips has also previously turned out, Doshi took 17 wickets in 85 overs last season at 14.53 apiece. As a quirk of fate, Phillips has also made the final auction cut – and so, few amateur clubs worldwide will have such vested interest in the events of next week. They are part of a select group, including Eoin Morgan, Owais Shah, Abhishek Jhunjhunwala and Adam Gilchrist, to have appeared in an IPL auction and played in the Middlesex Premier League.


This time last year, Doshi – who has also established his own coaching academy – was only just beginning to plot his return. He trained regularly at Lord’s with Varun Agnish, a friend and coach, and would often spend four hours of his day “bowling, bowling and bowling” in the nets at Brondesbury club captain James Overy.

“I just wanted to prepare for the league season, which I was taking very seriously with a view in mind that if I could get back to where I wanted to be and I was happy in myself, then I could push it further.

“I don’t think about my age. Age will only be a barrier for those who want it to be a barrier. Whether you’re 42 or 20, you should earn your spot. This is professional cricket – earn your spot and be better than the older player.

“I absolutely love playing club cricket. That’s where it all starts. You get some very good players of spin, who hit you in some very unorthodox areas. They are very difficult to bowl to and it’s a good way of getting into rhythm. I love my club and the people – they’re fantastic.”

Unsurprisingly, Doshi’s greatest critic remains his father. “He was a great, great bowler and a very hard man to please,” he reflects. “Last January, when I told him that I wanted to start doing this again, he said: ‘Are you sure?’ After I’d been practising for two weeks, he came to see me and gave me the nod. I value his opinion the most.”

But having been forced into what felt in his own mind like a premature retirement, he was certain that he wanted to resume, with age no factor. He looks at Chris Gayle, Imran Tahiir and Pravin Tambe, all of whom are among the elder statesmen still on the T20 carousel. “T20 is an experienced man’s game, and I had a break so, relatively, my body is still very young,” he adds.

“A lot of it is mindset. A lot of it is not being scared to get hit for six. I never have been scared of it because no matter how good you are, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable; I don’t think a bowler has ever existed who has not been hit for six. That is a big thing.

“As a spinner, I think you had to try to do people in the air and off the pitch. I always believed that you had to bowl at your strength. The batsman is always going to do certain things, but if in your mind you’re thinking that the batsman is doing this or that, then you’re already on the back foot.

“I always thought about where I was most likely to take a wicket. And if I wasn’t going to take a wicket, how could I stop myself conceding a single? It was wicket first. If not wicket, no run. That was my mentality. I always tried to produce that and to be as attacking as I could be. I never used to think about conceding a boundary.”


Doshi took his last T20 wicket in 2011

At Surrey, that strategy mirrored his team’s wider aggression – Doshi always bowled with a short extra cover in place and a slip when possible. Under Adam Hollioake, they were a juggernaut: Ali Brown was well ahead of his time, while Mark Ramprakash, Greg Blewett and Mark Butcher made for a strong middle order.

And furthermore, while some counties struggled to take the new, alien format seriously, Doshi and his teammates sensed a chance to win silverware. He says: “I think towards the end of 2003, people were like: ‘Hang on a minute. Oh Jesus, look at the prize money.’ And then, suddenly the crowds started gathering, the stadiums were full. This had some merit.”

Eighteen years on, he insists that much of the T20 game he sees now was there in the competition’s nascent years. “Mal Loye used to sweep fast bowlers, you had people playing reverse-sweeps. We had Andrew Symonds – not a lot of people hit the ball as hard as him. There were some seriously top hard-hitting batsmen around, all over the world.

“My role was just to control the middle period and try to pick up wickets. We always believed that if you took wickets, the run rate would go down anyway. And that is still the case.”

Depending on how the next week goes, he might even have a chance to test that hypothesis. But as the lots are read out and his time comes, Doshi won’t be listening in. Destiny will do its thing. And when his name is called amid a room of global superstars, who knows what will happen?

The story of Barney Gibson, England's youngest-ever first-class player, who left cricket for freedom

For all intents and purposes, his was a career finished and wrapped up, destined to peak in pioneering an early trail that others would then follow. In the fortunes of so many spinners since, his initial T20 success might just have eased their path. “There are a lot of people who said: ‘This will ruin spin bowling,’” he points out.

In Doshi’s last professional game eight years ago, he took four second innings wickets to win a Ranji Trophy match for Saurashtra. That was it.

But, against all reasonable logic, what if there is to be another chapter on the big stage? “The best positive is to have no negatives,” he says, relaxed about what the lottery of an auction might bring.

“You can’t treat cricket differently to how you treat life. Everything interconnects, doesn’t it? You have to have that basic attitude. You can’t just switch it on for a storm. If you love something, don’t give up. Just go for it.”

And having returned to his sport after an extended hiatus, Nayan Doshi has gone for it.

Our coverage of the IPL is brought to you in association with Dafabet India. For more on Dafabet and to place a bet, click here

Surrey | Royal Challengers Bangalore | Rajasthan Royals | IPL | Features | County Cricket | 1Banner |


STAY UP TO DATE Sign up to our newsletter...

Thank You! Thank you for subscribing!

Units 7-8, 35-37 High St, Barrow upon Soar, Loughborough, LE128PY


Welcome to www.thecricketer.com - the online home of the world’s oldest cricket magazine. Breaking news, interviews, opinion and cricket goodness from every corner of our beautiful sport, from village green to national arena.