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Australia's Gurinder Sandhu is back home to play IPL

"I only realised how big it was when I got on to the plane to India," says the 21-year-old Indian-origin fast bowler from New South Wales.

Wisden India Staff |August 16, 2015, 11:15 PM IST
Australia's Gurinder Sandhu is back home to play IPL

If you were to be asked what Gurinder Sandhu has in common with Bransby Cooper, a man who played in Australia's inaugural Test in 1877, and Rex Sellers, chances are that links would be established on the lines of their home state or the club they represented.

Contrary to popular belief, Cooper, an Englishman who was born in Dacca, as it was known in British India, and not Sandhu, was the first cricketer of Indian descent to play for Australia. Sellers, born in Valsad, a small town in Gujarat, became the second member of that unique list, even though it may be argued that both cricketers didn't exactly have an Indian heritage.

Yet, history will remember both these men as part of a unique Australian-Indian club, with Sandhu being the latest entrant when he was handed his first cap against the country of his roots, India, in January 2015. Of course, it's a fact Sandhu isn't aware of, but there is no mistaking the pride as he reflects on wearing Australia's green and gold.

The year has already been an eventful one for Sandhu, whose family moved to Australia when he was four years old. An international cap at 21 isn't always the norm in a system that believes in nurturing players over a period of time than blooding them when young. That's precisely why Sandhu's case is intriguing.

Eight first-class matches for New South Wales in the 2014-15 season yielded 15 wickets, not top drawer stuff by any means. But an outstanding Matador Cup, the domestic one-day competition where he topped the bowling charts for New South Wales, brought him on the selection radar.

He followed up his 50-over heroics by becoming the second highest-wicket taker with eight scalps in six games for Sydney Thunder in the Big Bash League. His economy of 6.95 was further proof that he could hold his own in the shorter formats.

Two One-Day Internationals and three wickets later, he was on his way to the IPL. Of course, the Big Bash being widely televised in India may have also helped Sandhu get noticed by talent scouts.

"I knew the auction was happening, but we (New South Wales) were on the field at Wagga Wagga in a first-class game against Victoria," he remembers of that day in February. "When I returned to the dressing room, my phone was flooded with emails and calls from India. My relatives, friends and family were obviously delighted."

Some newspapers called it a homecoming of sorts for Sandhu, who has his roots in Punjab. Others cheekily remarked if Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan Royals, who were engaged in a frenetic bidding war, even remembered that he would still be counted as a foreign player. When the hammer went down, Sandhu attracted a sum of Rs 1.7 crore, nearly six times his base price.

"That took time to sink in," he says of the scramble for his services. "I only realised how big it was when I got on to the plane to India. But what excited me was the prospect of playing in a superstar line-up."

Sandhu belongs to a rare breed of "fast bowlers" for whom pace isn't everything. He's a strapping bowler who relies on accuracy and extra bounce. "I'm more Indian there, yeah?" he laughs. "But honestly, I've never felt lack of pace to be a hindrance. The guys around me at New South Wales (Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Josh Hazlewood) are quick, so in fact my style has lent a bit of balance. Why fix something that ain't broke?"

Sandhu admits to pinching himself every now and then to believe he's actually amidst some of the stars he's grown up admiring. "Both at Australia and here at Delhi Daredevils, it's unbelievable really," he says. "I grew up admiring Glenn McGrath. Then to play in a side with Michael Clarke, Mitchell Johnson and all those guys is just fantastic. Even here, the likes of JP Duminy, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh.... all greats in their own right.

"The first time I attended the team meeting, I was a little shy and reserved. But Yuvi came up and cracked me up with some Punjabi banter. That was the ice-breaker. Since then, I've realised all these guys are normal people who do normal things."

Sandhu is yet to get a game for Delhi. With Duminy, Imran Tahir, Angelo Mathews and Nathan Coulter-Nile performing quite well so far, he's aware of making the opportunities count when they arrive. Till then, he's happy to bide his time.

"Of course, you want to play... everyone wants to play," he says. "But we have a strong squad. I've enjoyed my interactions so far with Zaheer. He's been a great bowler for India, so talking to him regularly gives me a different perspective on bowling on these wickets here in India."

The journey has just begun, but Sandhu's rise alongside that of Fawad Ahmed and Usman Khawaja, both of Pakistani origin, and Moises Henriques, who hails from Portugal, mirrors Australia's multicultural face that could inspire many more to play the game.

Team Rankings

Rank Team Points Rating
1 Australia 3028 116
2 New Zealand 2406 115
3 India 3085 114
4 England 3466 105
5 Sri Lanka 2454 91
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 England 4820 127
2 India 5819 119
3 New Zealand 3716 116
4 South Africa 3345 108
5 Australia 3518 107
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Rank Team Points Rating
1 Australia 5285 278
2 England 4564 268
3 India 9319 266
4 Pakistan 5470 260
5 South Africa 4380 258
see more