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Sai Kishore's Journey From an Aspiring Scientist to Cricket Nerd

By: Karthik Lakshmanan

Edited By: Abhimanyu Sen

Last Updated: December 05, 2019, 08:24 IST

Sai Kishore's Journey From an Aspiring Scientist to Cricket Nerd

The transition from school topper to Engineering college drop-out scared his mother. Sai Kishore's father was fine with the drastic change and gave him freedom, but the future was left to himself.

He’s the highest wicket taker of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, with 20 scalps from 12 matches at an incredible economy of 4.63, a bulk of his 44.5 overs coming in the Power Play. Tamil Nadu’s 23-year-old left-arm spinner R Sai Kishore made heads turn in the T20 competition, taking his side to the final where they lost to Karnataka narrowly. He is now potentially in the radar of a few IPL franchises ahead of the auction this month.

The IPL is a tournament Sai Kishore aspires to play; he has even spoken about the snub in the 2018 auction being a ‘reality check’, and hopes the story will be different this year.

Cut to a decade or so back, and Sai Kishore’s aspirations were very different. Growing up in Adambakkam in Chennai, he was a ‘school topper’ who aspired to become a scientist.

“I loved studies so much, I really liked science," he tells Cricketnext. “I never expected that I’d be a cricketer. I was more of a school topper! I used to study really well then. If someone had asked me then, I’d have said I wanted to become a scientist or an engineer.

“But I also used to love watching cricket on TV. I was more of a stats person - I would know all the averages and other stats of players."

And then, cricket happened. Without any aspiration or knowledge of the path ahead, he joined a coaching camp near his house, setting base for a future in the sport. By his own admission though, Sai Kishore had a rough beginning to the sport. Being tall and lanky - he stands at 6’4” now - he tried medium pace but ended up chucking the ball. Even after turning to spin, he remembers bowling plenty of chest high full tosses.

“I wasn’t a natural bowler," he says.

But Sai Kishore was not the type to give up. He took the characteristics that made him a topper in academics, and imbibed it into his cricket.

And then, “it just happened. I don’t know how it has all happened."

“What will a topper do? He’ll always be studying, that’s the sign of a good topper. Maybe the characteristic just turned into cricket for me. That’s why I was able to make that rapid growth in cricket.

“In two years, I rose to the district side and kept taking wickets. If I recall now, there was not even a single day where I missed practice during that phase. Even then, it was just for fun and passion. It was just like something to look forward to after school. I never thought I’d play cricket professionally. When others would ask me, I’d say I’ll leave the game after 12th standard and head towards academics. But whenever I played, I played seriously."

The seriousness helped Sai Kishore play at the state Under-19 and Buchi Babu level, even as he was at the stage where he had to decide between his two interests - sports and academics. He did what plenty of youngsters from Tamil Nadu do when confused about their future at the end of school. Join an engineering college.

“I wasn’t the topper anymore after going towards cricket. By then, I wasn’t like before, my interest towards studies went down. Still, I joined engineering like most others. But I couldn’t connect with it like earlier, everyday I’d wonder why I’m doing this. So I decided and dropped out of engineering college within two months. By then, I was already in the state Under-19 squad, but still didn’t know if cricket would be my life. After that phase, I decided that cricket is life, success or failure."

The transition from school topper to Engineering college drop-out scared his mother. Sai Kishore’s father was fine with the drastic change and gave him freedom, but the future was left to himself.

“My dad was cool with the transition. He said he wouldn’t back me, ‘if you don’t come up in cricket, it’s up to you’. That’s the only thing he said. I was confident, because they have always given me outstanding freedom, but it was not like I was a pampered child. I have a twin brother and a sister. We all follow our passions. They just gave me independence and it gave me confidence," he says.

“Enna vena pannalaam nu oru morattu dhyryam vandhuchu (I developed confidence that I could do whatever I want). My thinking towards cricket completely changed then. Instead of playing just for passion or fun, it almost became like work. Every match meant a lot. There was a desperation, which has both positive and negative sides."

Since then, Sai Kishore’s rise on the field has been gradual. He was a part of the Tamil Nadu side that won both the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar titles in 2016-17. He made his first-class debut in the 2017-18 season, and has played nine Ranji Trophy matches. He’s also a regular in the Tamil Nadu Premier League.

He’s seen his share of lows too; Sai Kishore trialed for a couple of franchises ahead of the IPL auction for the last season but was not picked. He bowled to Chennai Super Kings in the nets earlier this year, where he was even hit around by MS Dhoni. Sai Kishore used all these as learnings to bounce back stronger.

“In the first two days, I was very confident. I bowled well and the batsmen were struggling against me. After he (Dhoni) hit me around on the third day, I realised that there’s something more to be learned when there is a batsman like this. Those were the things that I took from the CSK camp," he explains.

“It gave me a bit of belief that I can compete even against the top players. Because when you don’t play IPL, you dont’ know where you stand. When you play only against players you know, or at domestic level, you don’t know whether you’re good enough or not. You don’t find a roadmap as to what to work on. You can see on TV, but only experience helps you grow. The CSK camp gave me confidence, that if I bowl well, I can keep even the best quiet."

The IPL chance that went missing last season could come this year after the wonderful Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. Sai Kishore is naturally happy with all the recognition, but is also keen on ‘maintaining a balance’, something that comes from within and also interactions with seniors like Murali Vijay.

“Eventually, everything is going to change. If you have a bad season, everything will change. If you have a good tournament, something will change. So only constant is to keep working hard. What I feel is that success, good season, bad season is all our own fragment of imagination," he says philosophically.

“There will be tournaments where you’ve done well. You think about that and not train as hard for the next tournament, run 5 km in the gym instead of 10 km, be content with yourself… I’ve been guilty of doing that in the past. Obviously it’ll result in a drop in performance, not reaching your targets.

“Vijay says the most important thing is to forget. Forget everything, in this day and age where we play lots and lots of games. Forget the good games, and the bad ones."

Yet, even as he’s carving a path for himself on the field, Sai Kishore hasn’t completely forgotten the nerd within. He’s currently pursuing an MBA in analytics, juggling his two passions.

“It’s again something I do for my passion," he says. “I love analytics and data. It’s hard because I’m not able to go for exams, but I read a lot of books. I try to go in depth into the tools and concepts, not just try and pass. I love data and analytics in cricket too, I follow stats for all the series, how players grip the bat or ball… if not for cricket, people would call me a nerd for being like this. But because it’s cricket, people call it work ethic! Maybe I’m a cricket nerd."

first published:December 05, 2019, 08:17 IST
last updated:December 05, 2019, 08:24 IST
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