Sanjay Yadav, climbing up through Plate ranks

Left-arm spin bowling all-rounder Yadav, who topped the Plate division charts in domestic cricket, will ply his trade in IPL 2020 for SRH.

R. Sanjay Yadav, who made his first-class debut this season for Meghalaya, was earlier registered with Tamil Nadu.

R. Sanjay Yadav, who made his first-class debut this season for Meghalaya, was earlier registered with Tamil Nadu.   -  N. Bashkaran

For the past two years, cricketers from Plate division have often entered the domestic cricket record books. While these records have come against weak oppositions, they are still records.

Guest player for Meghalaya, R. Sanjay Yadav made it count this season on the basis of his all-round performances in the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. He earned an Indian Premier League contract; he was sold for double the price he attracted in 2017, his last outing, when he was registered with Tamil Nadu.

Last year, Milind Kumar (Sikkim) was picked by Royal Challengers Bangalore but he didn’t get a game. And besides Kumar, Abhishek Nayar — assistant coach of Kolkata Knight Riders — was perhaps the only notable connection between a Plate team (Puducherry) and the glamorous league.

For IPL 2020, however, Sunrisers Hyderabad picked the left-arm spin bowling all-rounder for his base price of ₹20 lakh. “I am sure of getting a game this season. I am pumped up to meet the likes of Muttiah Muralitharan, Mohammad Nabi and Rashid Khan. I am hoping to perform well,” he tells Sportstar.

Gaining knowledge

Three years ago, it was Sanjay’s performance for VB Thiruvallur Veerans (now VB Kanchi Veerans) in the Tamil Nadu Premier League that had helped him earn a berth in the TN T20 squad and subsequently, a ₹10 lakh contract with KKR. He didn’t get a game but warming the bench meant knowledge-sharing. “I was getting to interact with Bala Sir (Lakshmipathy Balaji, then bowling coach) and legends like Sunil Narine and Shakib Al Hasan. Shakib bhai especially helped me a lot.”

Yadav shares the same skill-set with Shakib and former India all-rounder Sunil Joshi, the current the BCCI chief selector.

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There is an eerie similarity between Joshi and Yadav.

The 24-year-old is only the second player to have clinched 50-plus (55 and second-highest in the season) along with 500-plus (603) runs with the bat in a Ranji season. The other cricketer to have achieved this feat is Joshi (for Karnataka in the 1995-96 season).

Immediately after the feat, Joshi was handed the India cap. This story drew Yadav’s attention. “Yeah, who doesn’t want to play for India? But that is not what I have in mind, as of now. Let’s take one step at a time,” he adds.

The back story

His switch from TN to Meghalaya was suggested by a Tamil Nadu Cricket Association official so that he could hone his skills across all formats as a guest player. On December 10 last year, Yadav announced his first-class debut, claiming nine wickets and scoring 61 runs against Nagaland in a single innings. Exactly 26 days later, playing his fourth Ranji Trophy match, he ran through Puducherry. His figures read 8 for 31.

He wasn’t done yet. Less than two weeks later, his left-arm spin proved fatal again; he picked up six wickets for only 12 runs against Manipur.

Meghalaya failed to make the quarterfinals but Yadav sent across a message. “I ain’t done yet. I have lots to prove. My father and coach M. Premnath sir have invested a lot in me. I have to repay them,” says the Gorakhpur-born cricketer, whose family had moved to Hosur in Tamil Nadu for greener pastures.

His father, Ram Singh Yadav, was a daily wage painter and mother, Maya Devi, a housewife. The job was not enough to make a cricketer in the household.

Finding a coach

In 2008, when ‘Future India Cricket Academy’ opened up nearby, Sanjay couldn’t hold back. He fled home to attend the selection camp. A boy of 13 then, Sanjay didn’t take time to win over coach Premnath. “There was something about him that made me immediately like him. I cannot tell you what it was, though,” Premnath recalls.

“Two weeks after the classes commenced, he disappeared. No calls, no texts. Nothing. He just vanished,” he continues. Premnath’s efforts of bringing him back went in vain. He wasn’t to be found. The coach didn’t even know where he lived.

Six months since the incident, Premnath was watching his boys play against the students of the Maharishi Vidya Mandir school in Chennai. “And suddenly, my eyes fell on him in the dugout. I sent across a message asking him to wait after the match. He obeyed.”

Sanjay clearly remembers the day. He laughs, “Yes, I was scared he will scold me. I started crying and told him why I hadn’t come. My father earned very less money. I couldn’t continue. He is a kind man. He immediately took me under his wing, and till date has never asked for fee.”

That’s the beauty of sport. It builds character and relationships.

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