“I have not even been able to process what has happened. They called me up in the evening (Tuesday), and they said I’ll have to leave for Kolkata next morning. When I asked what time, they said at 8:30 am and there is practice at 1pm later. I didn’t even have time to reflect on it. All I have done is pack my bags and arrived here the next day.”
Kerala fast bowler Sandeep Warrier’s world changed with that one phone call from the Kolkata Knight Riders, informing him that he had been signed on for the season. After having been overlooked at the auction, the opportunity to play in the tournament was unexpected and thrilling.
“The family was happy, but it was not like they were overjoyed by it,” Warrier tells CricketNext. “In their mind, they knew that something like this could happen, keeping in mind the season that I had. I consider it has god giving me a reward for my performance last year.”
The 27-year-old will come in as a replacement for Kamlesh Nagarkoti, who has been sidelined for the second consecutive season due to injury. Warrier becomes the fifth player from Kerala to be part of an IPL team this season joining state mates Sanju Samson and Midhun S (Rajasthan Royals), Basil Thampi (Sunrisers Hyderabad) and Asif M (Chennai Super Kings).
The Thrissur-born pacer was the standout bowler for Kerala during the 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season. He picked up 44 wickets in 10 matches – his best season so far, and helped Kerala reach the semi-finals of the competition for the first time in their history. In the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy, Warrier picked up eight wickets, including a hat-trick against Andra Pradesh, from six matches.
“I had a good season with Kerala this year,” he says. “I took a fifer against Tamil Nadu in the Ranji Trophy. And DK bhai (Dinesh Karthik) was playing in the other team. That is when he called me for the trials. During the auction, they were able to get other fast bowlers from their wishlist. So, once this injury news came up, they called me up.”
This won’t be the first time Warrier will feature in an IPL squad. He was signed by Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2013 and was a part of the franchise for three years but failed to make the playing eleven in any of the games.
“For the first couple of years, I had an addiction that I want to play the IPL, play matches, perform well,” he says. “And I got stressed out because I did not get the opportunity to play in RCB. Over the last four years, I have not kept high expectations and put the team first. But I have stuck to my work ethic. That is the only controllable under me.”
Just like plenty of other aspirants, Warrier’s journey began in Mumbai, playing age-group cricket for his school. But it was only when he moved back to Kerala that he focused on the game seriously. Within the next five years, the pacer would go on to represent India U-23s and soon found himself making his First-Class debut for Kerala.
“I did not play club cricket in Mumbai, only playing in age group cricket for my school in Mumbai,” he recalls. “I didn’t really start off by playing cricket seriously, but once I moved back to Kerala, I started playing club cricket and then went on to play in districts.”
Kerala Head coach Dav Whatmore is another figure who has had a big influence on Warrier.
“The main difference is the mindset that he gives the players. He has given us freedom to go out and express ourselves,” he says. “Even if we don’t perform well in one or two matches, he doesn’t say ‘you haven’t performed well, so we’re throwing you out of the team’. He backs you and tries to get the best out. He’s someone who has good intuition, which has worked well for the team from the past two years.”
Having been given the opportunity, Warrier is eager to ensure he makes it count. The prospect of playing against his Kerala teammates in the competition, players he has grown close to over the years, is an exciting one for Warrier.
“Sport is a field where even if you’re friends with someone, you’ll have to go up against them one day,” he says. “Unless you’re consistently playing for India, you’ll are going to come up against them. Not just in IPL games, when we play club matches, we’ll come up against our Kerala teammates. You give your best, I’ll give mine – that’s how we set-up ourselves.”