What characterizes a quintessential Tamil Nadu cricketer? Do you have to be a touch player, a classy strokemaker like Murali Vijay or Abhinav Mukund? Do you have to be an astute cricketing mind with a degree like Ravichandran Ashwin or Varun Chakravarthy? Do you have to be dynamic on the field and lovable off it like Kris Srikkanth or Dinesh Karthik?
A man born in Gorakhpur who has played for Meghalaya in domestic cricket and made his IPL debut for the Mumbai Indians may not fit the TN stereotype. But that's just what makes Sanjay Yadav special. He's part of a new era of bold Tamil Nadu cricketers, ones that hit 100-meter sixes like Shahrukh Khan and others that pick up 10 wickets in the Duleep Trophy semi-final like R Sai Kishore.
To put it simply, Sanjay Yadav is a wrecking ball. He plundered 452 runs in the 2022 Tamil Nadu Premier League for joint-winners Nellai Royal Kings. The only thing more astonishing than his average of 90.4 was his strike rate of 186.77. To put that into perspective, only one player who scored more than 150 runs had an average of over 50 and a strike rate of over 150 - Vijay, who played only four games.
If that wasn't enough, the 27-year-old sent down 33 overs - only three men bowled more overs in TNPL 2022. He returned six wickets at an economy rate of 8.03, impressive numbers when you consider the fact that he bowled at all stages of the innings.
In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Sanjay Yadav opened up about a variety of topics. He spoke freely about playing under Rohit Sharma at the Mumbai Indians, the changes he has made to his approach and his dreams of playing for the country.
Excerpts from Sportskeeda's exclusive interview with Sanjay Yadav
Q: We've seen you have good domestic seasons before, but there's no doubt that your TNPL 2022 campaign was your best ever. What changes did you make for this year and why did everything click?
Sanjay Yadav: I focused a lot on my work ethic, changed my mindset and made a few technical changes. I tried to play long innings this time. During the previous TNPLs, I didn't get the right spots in the batting order, but this time I batted consistently at No. 4 and No. 5. So I got time to bat, and I tried to stay there until the end. That helped me a lot.
Q: For a player like you who generally bats in the middle order, versatility is key. But is there any particular role that you think brings the best out of you in the batting department?
Sanjay Yadav: In T20Is, to be frank, we can't talk about ideal positions because each team has different requirements. Batting at 4 and 5 feels good because I have some time. But I'm used to all positions, whether it's last four-six overs or in the powerplay. I've played everywhere, and it doesn't make much of a difference anymore. The only thing is that I'd like some time to get set so that I can notch up big scores. When compared to batting at the end, batting earlier helps my game.
Q: Your bowling has evolved considerably over the last few years. For a team like TN, which has a plethora of spinners like R Sai Kishore, M Siddharth, Murugan Ashwin, Varun Chakravarthy and Washington Sundar apart from several part-timers, how is your role in the team defined?
Sanjay Yadav: From a bowling perspective too, I bowl everywhere. I bowl in the powerplay, in the middle overs, at the death - just like batting. In T20s, Sai [Kishore] and I generally form a good pair. We talk amongst ourselves about what's happening in the middle and we help each other bowl better. Whichever situation and demands we are in, we adapt.
Q: One of the biggest reasons behind TN's success in white-ball cricket has been their leadership group. How has playing under these captains helped you, and do you recall any specific advice from either them or fellow players that you've carried forward in your career?
Sanjay Yadav: All the captains I've played under have helped me. DK [Dinesh Karthik] anna, Vijay Shankar, all of these captains give the players a lot of freedom. It's a nice environment where you can express yourself. I interacted with [Ravindra] Jadeja during the last IPL and he gave me ideas. Virat Kohli, Kane Williamson - I've interacted with these players and got to talk to them about both cricket and off-field topics. It made me very happy to talk to them.
My confidence comes from not quitting during my struggles: Sanjay Yadav
Q: You've made it clear that you take one step at a time, but you must have some bigger goals that you work towards. What are you looking to accomplish in the upcoming years, and what roadmap have you drawn for yourself for the same?
Sanjay Yadav: The main goal, for any cricketer, is to play for India. Don't you agree? If I go about these smaller goals well, the main goal will become easier to achieve. Domestic white-ball competitions, tour matches with India A, Duleep Trophy, IPL. I have these goals. I need to do well in the IPL. Just like I've performed in the TNPL, I need to perform in the IPL. And even if we don't expect it, the main goals will be fulfilled.
Q: What can we expect from Sanjay Yadav over the next year or so? Do you have any expectations from yourself, such as becoming a regular in Mumbai's playing XI or winning championships?
Sanjay Yadav: That's a tough question [laughs]. I have expectations, but they are only small goals. Last year, we [TN] won the championship [Syed Mushtaq Ali]. So this year also we need to win. Individual performance also needs to be good. I have very small goals like these. I want to play all the matches of Vijay Hazare. I want to do well in the IPL as an all-rounder as well.
Q: Finally, we all know what you've been through to get to where you are right now. You've had to overcome many struggles in your formative years and a simple Google search reveals that your path to the top has been full of obstacles. When you look back on how far you've come now, how do you feel? And how have those tough periods helped you become the person and the cricketer you are today?
Sanjay Yadav: I'm very happy. Everyone has struggles in life, and I too had to go through many difficulties. Instead of giving up, I persevered, so I feel happy that I didn't quit. It gives you confidence even when certain tournaments don't go well. You remind yourself of all the struggles you've gone through, and the fact that you have overcome them will give you the boost you need when you're down. You can always push yourself and reach the level you want to.
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