The year 2022 has been an endless joyride for Tamil Nadu’s R Sai Kishore. He entered the
IPL mega auction in February at his base price of Rs 20 lakh and after a bidding war, which included his former franchise Chennai Super Kings, was snapped up by Gujarat Titans for Rs 3 crore.
Kishore was part of one of CSK’s title-winning squads (2021). But he warmed the bench
over three seasons despite his consistently good returns in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India’s domestic T20 competition, during that time. So, when asked what his biggest takeaway was, in a season where he won a second consecutive title, this time with newcomer
Titans, Kishore said: “I was relieved I finally made my debut and not just wondered whether I belonged (at IPL) or not.”
The 25-year-old’s frugal left-arm spin earned him six wickets in five games at an economy
rate of 7.56 and proved to be the ideal foil to leg-spinner Rashid Khan in the Titans’ title run. Kishore didn’t play the first half of the tournament and had to wait for the pitches in Mumbai and Pune to slow down and start to turn to get a look in.
But the looming possibility of yet another season on the bench did not beset him with
self-doubt. And Kishore singled out well-defined goals and clear management communication as the key reasons. “Ashu pa (Bowling coach Ashish Nehra) wanted to play an extra fast bowler in Mumbai. He did not want to risk an extra spinner at that stage. It was
clearly communicated to me. So, it was very easy for me to stay in a good space. Ashu Pa handled the non-playing members beautifully. We got a proper amount of net practice.”
Kishore’s most telling contribution came in Qualifier 1 against the Rajasthan Royals at
the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. Having been struck for two fours by a marauding Sanju Samson in his first over, Kishore came back for his second, close on the heels of a two-run Rashid Khan over. His mastery over change of pace and game awareness were on display
as he beat Samson in the air and had him caught at long-on for 47 off 26. Talking about that spell, Kishore said: “In most matches I played, I had the license to attack – throw the ball up, bowl a little slower and try to get a wicket. At Eden Gardens, I gave
two boundaries in my first over. Rajasthan was going strong at that stage, and I was looking to defend.
“But I had not played in Kolkata a lot, so I underestimated the pitch. The two boundary
balls on some other surface would have held on the wicket and gone to sweeper cover and not behind point. After that over, Hardik (Pandya) walked up to me and said, ‘Just bowl your normal length. Let’s bring the straight fields into play’. So, it was a gamble
that paid off (smiles).”
As much as he loves learning from others, Kishore’s focus during these two months was
less on picking brains of his teammates and more on implementing what he already knows. “Instead of saying ‘I want to learn more’, I wanted to maximise what I already know. Develop my instincts.
“Because when you play, the learning is there, it is better to get feedback on what you
do – if it works, great, and if it doesn’t, you learn and move on. I tried to express myself in whatever patterns I have imbibed through my toil in domestic cricket and use it here and see how it works.
“I’ve not played many games at this level. The skill set is there, but I want to play
more because your instincts get better when you respond to situations in real time instead of in simulations. I learned a lot during my time with CSK. And I’m grateful that I’m able to gain experience by playing games with GT.”
Gujarat Titans took out a victory parade on May 30 on an open-top bus to celebrate its
title triumph. Kishore, however, couldn’t be spotted with his jubilant teammates on the top tier. “I am a little shy, so I did not go up
(smiles). I was in the bottom tier,”
he said. “But the celebrations were heart-warming. There were lots of excited fans making noise outside. It was my first large-scale public celebration after a title win.”
Kishore’s stocks will rise after he has lived up to IPL hype. Now that he is in the
limelight, he will also have to learn to take the flak and adulation at the same time and learn to cope with it.