Sai Kishore: Keeping ego aside and bowling for the team

The 25-year-old left-arm finger-spinner has played a stellar role in Tamil Nadu becoming the most dominant force in white-ball cricket in the past three domestic seasons.

In the 2019-20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Sai Kishore had an economy rate of 4.63 — the best among bowlers with at least 20 overs under their belt.   -  THE HINDU

Tamil Nadu’s R. Sai Kishore has consistently been among the most economical bowlers in domestic T20 cricket. In the 2019-20 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, Sai Kishore had an economy rate of 4.63 — the best among bowlers with at least 20 overs under their belt. In the 2020­-21 edition, he had an economy rate of 4.82 — the second­-best with the same cut­-off. The 25­-year­-old left-arm finger­-spinner has played a stellar role in Tamil Nadu becoming the most dominant force in white­-ball cricket in the past three domestic seasons. In this interview with Sportstar, Sai Kishore talks about his recent success in limited­-overs cricket, the IPL, and working to get better at his craft.

Let’s begin by talking about how you prepare for a season? When does the physical prep work start?

What I try to do, not just for a season because there’s hardly any off-season, and every tournament that I play, I usually analyse what worked and what didn’t, and the areas where I can get better. There will be some learnings from each tournament, so I modify my approach based on that. When it comes to physical and tactical preparation, I adopt a tournament­-centric method. When you are constantly travelling, working under a personal trainer is hard. So, I work with my Tamil Nadu strength and conditioning coach Arun K.R. He is very good. When I have a proper off-season, I work with Ramji Srinivasan (the former India fitness trainer). That takes care of the fitness part.  But my main focus is skill training. Once I get to the venue of the match, there are usually two days of nets. Conditions around the country vary, and so do the pitches. As domestic cricketers, we play at the main grounds as well as at the lesser­-known venues, so we have a good understanding of how the wickets behave. There are different kinds of soils in various parts of the country, and each behaves in its peculiar way. As a spinner, I try to judge what length and speed to bowl. For example, the pitches made of red soil tend to break quicker than the black soil, so I bowl a bit fuller. On black­soil wickets, the length is shorter. I’ve been blessed to have a very defined support system around me in the last three­-four years. It has helped me exploit all these nuances in the best possible way.

As far as tactical preparation goes, are you someone who watches a lot of player videos before a season/match?

I do like watching videos. However, in domestic cricket, you don’t get a lot of videos because many of these matches aren’t shown live. I watch the videos of all our opponent matches that are live, ball by ball. I don’t leave anything uncovered. For me, though, watching a video is about putting myself in the game, reading the pitch and coming up with an action plan if I find myself in a similar situation. It isn’t just about the batter or how he is playing a particular bowler.

Sai Kishore: Dravid taught me to trust my own game  

Can you recall any example of how you read a batter and a passage of play?

We played a Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 semifinal against Rajasthan last season. They were going at nearly 10 runs an over at one stage, so from there, we restricted them to 145 [154/9]. It was a good learning curve. Just keeping the ego aside and bowling for the team worked for me. The ego I am talking about is that in that stage of a T20 game, I will keep telling myself that I’m defending now, so I will have to concede a single here, a two there. It hurts sometimes because deep within I know I shouldn’t be conceding that run. But that’s the job my captain wants me to do at that stage. Speaking about the phases, I would be happy to go for extra 15­-20 runs in search of that extra wicket...there were games where I ended up conceding 30­-plus in four overs, but I was okay with it because, at that stage, we needed a wicket, and the breakthrough I provided would’ve stemmed the flow of runs. Usually, I prepare a lot before a game. But once I enter the field, my mind is blank. Sometimes, you watch videos and devise a plan of action that suits a particular passage of play. However, once the game begins, you may or may not encounter that situation — maybe the opposition is 30 for three, and the batter is looking to play you out. If the team needs wickets, I try to attack as much as possible without being selfish, and if the team needs me to bowl six or seven­-run overs without conceding boundary, then I do that.

You have taken the new ball in T20 cricket and have also bowled at the death for Tamil Nadu. How have you adapted to these roles?

My funda is simple: As a bowler, I can’t choose a phase of the game to bowl. I should be able to bowl upfront, in the middle and at the death. Especially in domestic cricket, where you don’t usually have the luxury of playing too many all­-rounders, as a spinner, you should be able to bowl any time. This year, Nattu (T. Natarajan) was in and out of the team with injury. So, we needed a death-bowling option... but that would’ve meant losing an all­-rounder, so I took up that role. I’ve done that [bowling with the old ball] in TNPL (Tamil Nadu Premier League) as well, and Jaggi (N. Jagadeesan) and Vijay (Shankar) were confident in my ability to deliver at the death.

Tamil Nadu’s R Sai Kishore has consistently been among the most economical bowlers in domestic T20 cricket.   -  THE HINDU


You’ve honed your skills as a batter as well. More recently, you helped Tamil Nadu get over the line in a last­-ball finish against Saurashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy semifinal. Tell us a bit about that innings. 

In that game, Washy [Washington Sundar] was batting really well. He got out off the third ball of the second­-last over. At that stage, we needed two boundaries to win. In my mind, I was visualising one boundary and ways to score that. We were under pressure, so the idea was to take it deep, say the last three or four balls, and put the pressure back on them. It just so happened that the field was up for the last ball and I was able to hit the ball through point for four. As far as batting goes, I talk to people who’ve done it day in and day out. I talk to Dinesh Karthik and watch Shahrukh Khan play.

Speaking of Dinesh Karthik, he has had a massive influence on the team, hasn’t he?

Totally. Dinesh Karthik playing domestic cricket has helped us youngsters and the Tamil Nadu team immensely. We respect him a lot. With him on the side, we are all on the same page. There’s no one drifting away. If someone as seasoned as DK is so into the game, we are not going to fool around. He provided role clarity, confidence and security during his two seasons as captain. Under him, we played the same team for almost all tournaments, which helped the players bond as a unit.

Is there anyone in the team or the Tamil Nadu support staff you turn to when you aren’t feeling too confident about your game?

I speak to our assistant coach R. Prasanna whenever I have doubts. He has been one of the driving forces behind our team’s white­-ball transformation, but he has been very silent about it. He watches a lot of videos. He has probably watched every ball faced by each opposition batter. So, if I miss something, I ask him what I should do against a particular batter, whether I should attack or defend, and he has the answers. He has been a big brother to us more than a coach. If you ask Shahrukh, he will tell you the same thing.

Sai Kishore credits his time with CSK for making him a well-rounded white-ball bowler.   -  K PICHUMANI


Did the IPL stint with the Chennai Super Kings make you a more rounded white­-ball bowler?

Absolutely. I am not like Rashid Khan or Sunil Narine, who can deviate the ball both ways. I need to rely on my instincts and match awareness. So, being around someone like Mahi bhai [M. S. Dhoni]... you know, just talking to him and getting a feel of how he operates during a match has helped me develop my cricket. Even though I didn’t play a single IPL game, these learnings will go a long way in making me a better cricketer. I observe each bowler closely, trying to figure out what makes the world­-class spinners click on different wickets. I watch their videos and learn.

The IPL auction is scheduled for February 12 and 13. There are two new teams this time. What are your expectations?

As far as the auction goes, whether I get a good deal or go unsold doesn’t change my mindset. I don’t think the auction is a report card on how good or not good a player is. It’s just the situation that prompts a franchise to sign one player and ignore the other. I am clear about my strengths and the areas I need to improve on. It’s a boon that I’ve been able to make a career out of what I enjoy doing most: play cricket. There’s joy in preparing for a match, getting better and giving 100 per cent for your team, both on and off the field. So yeah, we will just wait and see how the auction goes.

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