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Script is nicely poised for me to come good: Sanju

INTERVIEW/SANJU SAMSON

Sanju Samson Vishwanath at Taj Bengal on Tuesday. 
Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: Sanju Samson Vishwanath, a key member of the Rajasthan Royals’ franchise and somebody who often remains in contention for a Team India berth, spoke to The Telegraph at Taj Bengal on Tuesday evening.

Sanju, 23, has made one appearance in the India colours — a T20I against Zimbabwe, back in July 2015.

The Royals take on the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) in Wednesday’s Eliminator, so the stakes for Sanju and the franchise are exceedingly high.  

Excerpts...

Q. The results of both matches on Sunday went the Royals’ way. How closely were the players following those games?

A We watched both matches and, luckily, our prayers got answered.

Q. Nobody expected both the Mumbai Indians and the Kings XI Punjab to lose...

A That did come as a pleasant surprise, but the Royals deserved to qualify for the play-offs purely for the effort everybody has put in right through this IPL. There was a phase when we lost three in a row, but the environment in the franchise remained very good with plenty of positive energy going around the group. If a team stays positive, the results will go its way.

Q. The Royals lost both group-stage matches against KKR... Won’t that be a factor on Wednesday?

A It will be a factor. However, my belief is that those defeats will actually motivate us to raise our game and to set that 0-2 record right. It’s like this: If you’ve lost twice to the same opposition, you want to make it third time lucky. We know the strengths and weaknesses of KKR and are ready to give it back to them.

Q. It’s a must-win match...

A (Grins) I suppose the last three-four matches have all been must-win ones. So, the pressure awaiting us won’t be anything new. That said, every single Royals player will have to stay calm and keep intact their composure. While pressure is there, it would be best to treat the Eliminator as an opportunity to showcase our skills instead of only thinking about pressure. We’ll have to keep things simple. 

Q. What, then, will make the difference for the Royals?

A Even if we play to 80 per cent of our potential, I think we’ll get past KKR. We can win.  

Q. You began this IPL with a bang, had an excellent April (279 runs in seven matches, with a best of 92 not out), but your form nosedived thereafter. What happened?

A The T20 format is such that you need to keep going at the bowlers, regularly go for the big shots. As a result, the risk factor is high. The quality of bowling is good, but T20 isn’t even a 50-over game, so you cannot play normal cricket.

Because of the risk factor, the chances of failure are high. I’m not making an excuse, for a tournament such as the IPL gives you opportunities to come back. Hopefully, it will be my day on Wednesday... I suppose the script indeed is nicely poised for me to come good. I’ll then repay the faith shown in me by the Royals’ team management... When I got out on the first ball in the last match, against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, I’d said to myself ‘Yaar, ho gaya tera iss saal ka IPL’... But, thanks to the results on Sunday, I have at least one other opportunity to express myself. I intend doing that. 

Q. Won’t you be under much pressure against KKR?

A When there’s no pressure at all, then I do play every ball the way I’d like to. Pressure, however, helps me control my emotions and makes me play according to the situation, according to the demands of the team. I don’t see pressure as something which weighs me down, rather it generally brings the best out of me. I have set high standards for myself, so I do not run away from pressure. 

Q. As luck would have it, top guns Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes have had to return home for national duty at a critical time in the Royals’ campaign. You all beat the Royal Challengers without them, but it still is a big loss...

A Definitely... I accept that, but the departure of two key players from overseas opened the doors for two others who’d been waiting on the bench... We had a chat before the match against the Royal Challengers and the theme was ‘We’ve lost two good players, but our thoughts must remain positive’... That it was an opportunity for others to showcase talent... Rahul Tripathi, for example, had an amazing knock against the Royal Challengers. Hopefully, he’ll do a repeat at the Eden not too many hours from now.

Q. Some thoughts on Ajinkya Rahane as captain...

A Rahane is very quiet, pretty much like Rahul (Dravid) Sir, my first captain at Royals. He’s an old hand at Royals... What stands out is that Rahane is a very balanced human being and cricketer. He hasn’t had a great IPL, but he’s in the same mental space as he was at the start of the tournament. Not too much success makes most change the way they behave, the way they speak... But Rahane has stayed the same. He’s constantly encouraging the younger players to do well, a clear sign of a good captain.

Q. What has been the influence of Shane Warne, the Royals’ mentor, on you?

A I’ll be honest... I’ve been a Warne fan and often go to YouTube to watch some of his classical dismissals... It’s my good luck that I’ve got to face a few balls from him at nets. That somebody of Warne’s stature told me that I’m ‘really good’ has been a source of motivation. He’s such a positive person that it rubs off on those who interact with him... Rahul Sir has had a big influence on me and so has Warne.

Q. But Dravid and Warne are vastly different personalities...

A They are... Rahul Sir is more on the quieter side, while Warne is such a dominating person. Different characters, yet both leave such a deep impression on you. 

Q. Do you see yourself as a ’keeper-batsman or a batsman-’keeper?

A (Laughs) I am a ’keeper-batsman when the team wants me behind the wickets; I’m a batsman-’keeper when I’m in as a batsman... Depends... Whatever it is, I look for opportunities.

[For the upcoming India A tour of England, Sanju has been picked for the tri-series as a specialist batsman. Rishabh Pant is going as the ‘keeper.]

Q. Role model?

A Always a batsman... Brian Lara. Then, later, Rahul Sir.  

Q. You were projected as the ‘Next Big One’ in 2014, but you haven’t lived up to that early billing... 

A The usual reaction is that I went downhill rather quickly, but the fact is I’ve learnt a lot in the last four years. It has been a process of education and I’m the type who looks to learn and improve. There are a number of very fine cricketers in India and I realise I have to improve. I’m not blind to what is expected of me... I’ve learnt to adapt my game to different conditions and, behind the wickets, I’m pretty decent. I accept that Pant is good, as is Ishan Kishan, who has good hands. The key to improving as a ’keeper is more and more time behind the wickets... I was, I may add, a teenager four years ago. 

Q. Finally... What’s the challenge for you at this point in time?

A Fitness, for sure. I’m working on my fitness, besides obviously working on my game. I have to cut out taking the wrong option at the wrong time. Hopefully, I have a bright future. Today, I’m waiting for one big season of domestic cricket, one big IPL... Even one big match, perhaps like the Eliminator.

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