A child Samson!

Sanju Vishwanadh... the trophy collection is already impressive.-S. GOPAKUMAR

In a State, Kerala, that doesn’t have a clutch of cricketing icons to choose from, the 18-year-old Sanju Vishwanadh has become something of a hero. He isn’t, however, keen on reading too much into the accolades. “I am recognised on the streets these days. It’s nice that people appreciate me but I can’t afford to get carried away,” he says in this interaction with Arun Venugopal.

Sanju Vishwanadh speaks in a manner that is none too dissimilar to that of many young cricketers these days — mature, focussed, and quietly confident. Only that it isn’t mere bluster; he walks the talk.

The young Kerala cricketer, whose batting and wicket-keeping exploits for Rajasthan Royals (RR) in the Indian Premier League (IPL) placed him under the arc lights, isn’t averse to candid admissions, too.

“I have started enjoying my game more as I am no longer result-oriented. I used to rate myself based on my performances in the past but now I am happy if I am giving 100 per cent. I am lucky to be in the right place at the right time,” says Sanju in an interview to Sportstar.

In a State that doesn’t have a clutch of cricketing icons to choose from, the 18-year-old has become something of a hero. He isn’t, however, keen on reading too much into the accolades. “I am recognised on the streets these days. It’s nice that people appreciate me but I can’t afford to get carried away.”

Sanju’s lowest point, according to him, was being omitted for the under-19 World Cup that India won in Australia last year. “It made me more determined. A century against Himachal Pradesh in difficult conditions in the Ranji Trophy was what started the turnaround.”

The conversation takes the inevitable route, drifting towards his time at RR. “I had scored a century and a fifty against Andhra in a Ranji Trophy game at Kadapa. (Shanthakumaran) Sreesanth bhai was impressed and he took me to Jaipur for a three-day trial where Rahul (Dravid) sir and (head coach) Paddy Upton were present. Rahul sir was happy with what he saw and said he wanted me in the team.”

Sanju calls RR the “best team” he has played for. “I never ever imagined I would be playing with Rahul sir. Things were very relaxed and the coach and captain never stopped backing me. One of the things I learnt from Rahul sir and (Shane) Watson was how to be humble and respectful with everyone. The best compliment I received from Rahul sir was, ‘Sanju, you have a special talent. Never stop working on it,’” says the youngster, who was named the IPL’s young player of the tournament.

The spot-fixing scandal, then, must have hurt. “It was a shock but I would like to say that we came back from it really well. The captain and coach took us forward courageously. My father, like the parents of several others in the team, was naturally very worried and advised me to be careful.”

Sanju’s father, Vishwanadh Samson, has had a huge role to play in the former’s development. “My father was a police constable in Delhi and, growing up there, I fell in love with cricket. He never discouraged me. I remember once when he came back from his night shift, he had an hour’s nap, and immediately took the field to play with my brother (Saly, who’s played for the Kerala under-25 side), friends, and I.

“When we relocated to Thiruvananthapuram, Biju George, who’s coached many Kerala cricketers, provided great support,” says the first-year B.A. (English Literature) student of Mar Ivanios College.

Sanju, who recently figured in the Buchi Babu tournament and will turn out for RR in the Champions League T20, isn’t into goal-setting, choosing instead to “keep things simple.”

What’s not simple is the mystery surrounding his last name. “I changed my last name to Vishwanadh when I was in Class X. While I am called ‘Sanju Vishwanadh’ in the newspapers, on TV it’s always ‘Sanju Samson,’” he laughs.