R Sai Kishore: The rising star taking TNPL by storm
The illusion of control is what we all seek in life, only to be shown that sometimes, no matter how hard we try, some things are beyond our control. Sometimes, life is just a happy accident. While his five-wicket haul against Karaikudi Kaalai in the second edition of the TNPL was no accident, R Sai Kishore's journey into cricket certainly was.
How else can you explain the transformation of someone who hadn't thought about a career in cricket and confesses that his priority is studying into one that currently holds the record for the best figures in TNPL and is regarded as one of the most promising spinners in the state.
In an exclusive interview with Sportskeeda, the 20-year-old left-arm spinner spoke about bowling in T20s, the difficulties of playing the game you love while pursuing an MBA and also his idol, Ravichandran Ashwin.
Like most Indian kids, Sai Kishore, grew up while playing cricket on the streets with his friends. But as he admits over the course of a freewheeling conversation, he wasn't serious about taking up the game until his eighth grade.
"Actually I never thought about a career in cricket," he starts. "While I was in the eighth standard, just like that, I went to a nearby coaching centre. After finishing my 12th, I had a decision to make, whether to take up engineering or play cricket seriously, I took up the latter and that's where it all began."
Studies are always the priority: Sai Kishore
While the 20-year-old admits that he chose to pursue cricket, that doesn't mean he has given up on studies yet. Far from it, having completed his BCA, he is currently pursuing his MBA and is firm in his belief that studies are always "the priority".
"For me, studies are always the priority. I don't compromise on my studies. I'm doing my MBA now and it all boils down to what college you choose and how much help your PD has been rendering you. My PD in Vivekananda (during BCA) was very supportive for me, so finishing the degree and learning the course was a lot easier," he says with the confidence of a man who knows what he wants.
While his decision to pick up the cherry and decide to bowl might have been a bit late, surely, he was always a left-arm spinner. His control and ability to pick wickets at regular intervals indicate someone who has worked hard at his craft and has done it from the beginning. But no, even the decision to be a left-arm spinner was a happy accident.
He admits that he began as a fast bowler before his coach told him that he was chucking and as a result, he turned to left-arm spin and the rest, as they say, is history.
It all began with last year's TNPL where the then 19-year-old was one of the success stories as his 12 wickets and economy rate of under 6 helped his side, Chepauk Super Gillies finish as the runner-up.
Then, earlier this year, he broke into the notoriously difficult Tamil Nadu bowling line-up towards the end of the Vijay Hazare Trophy and was an integral part of the team lifting both the Vijay Hazare and the Deodhar Trophy that followed and admits that "getting into that side and performing above my expectations was a really good feeling."
Despite making his List-A debut in the quarterfinal, he showcased his calmness under pressure as he finished the tournament with seven wickets in three matches. He fared even better in the Deodhar Trophy, where he picked up 9 wickets in three matches, including those of established Indian internationals, Ambati Rayudu, Shikhar Dhawan and Manish Pandey.
So what makes him such a difficult bowler to get away? Much like his bowling, his words are measured as he speaks about how unlike most spinners in T20s, his mindset is always to attack the batsmen and gain the upper hand.
"Normally I am an attacking bowler and I think it's helping me stand apart from the rest. Generally, the mindset would be to go defensive in T20 for a bowler but mine would be vice versa. I normally look to get the upper hand by going for wickets. I think the tournament has been really good for all left-arm spinners and I am one who doesn't get satisfied that easily so that is what is keeping me going."
And the fact that he is tall is an added advantage? He immediately nods his approval before delving into detail about what gives him an edge over his competition.
"Naturally I have height, which gives me bounce. I can extract bounce on almost all wickets and I can impart more revolutions and normally there aren't many tall spinners in cricket. It is a rare community so that gives me an advantage over everybody."
Two of the top three wicket-takers in this year's TNPL are left-arm spinners and when probed further on the reason for their success, he simply adds "that is because most people are right-handed and the ball going away is always difficult to play."
If you see Ashwin, he is like a legend now: Sai Kishore
Just a few minutes into the interview, it is easy to see why he is so highly regarded. A self-confessed student of the game, who is always looking to improve himself and be better, there is more than a passing reference of a certain off-spinner from the state, who is now playing for India in Sai Kishore.
Press him further about his idol, R Ashwin and the glee in his eyes are evident as he explains another happy accident that led to a session with him.
"We both are tall spinners so I would take some cues about his bowling and some points which might help me. I just watch his match videos, how he goes about it, how he thinks about the game and that's all."
Before adding that watching Ashwin perform so brilliantly gives him the belief that one day he can do the same.
"A similar player, coming from the same state, being the top-most spinner in the world, it is always a great motivation and inspiration to have. If you see Ashwin, he is like a legend now. You can get a lot of belief from him."
While the left-arm spinner has had a lot of success already, he isn't letting any of that go to his head. He admits that while his success has been predominantly in the shorter formats, he doesn't consider himself a short-form specialist.
"Definitely, I'm not a limited-overs bowler. I would consider myself as a test match bowler. I don't let T20 or One-Day success go to my head, all I would think is, how do I become a Test bowler. That has always been my ambition. I think T20 is helping me in picking the batsman's patterns and weakness."
So what about playing for India or in the IPL and the response is in line with everything that went before. Confident and not arrogant, ambitious, yet still practical, the 20-year-old minces no words he speaks about his pursuit of excellence.
"For me, the short-term goal would be to do well in this TNPL, make my team win the trophy. The bigger goal is excellence, that is being the best spinner in the world or being the best in your skill. That would be the bigger picture rather than me saying I'll play for India, I'll take these many wickets, that's not how I go about things. All I could do is focus on the process of being the best in this skill or being the best in the world."
He concludes by adding that playing for India can't be promised but being the best in his skill can be, with hard work. And that is the story of the 20-year-old left-arm spinner from Chennai who has already understood one of life's biggest myths. While his tryst with cricket may have been a happy accident, his dedication and discipline are sure to ensure that he made the right call.