Sanju Samson watched the 2008 Indian Premier League final with his Kerala U-16 teammates as Rajasthan Royals defeated a star-studded Chennai Super Kings at DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Like Sanju, most of his current Rajasthan Royals colleagues must have been in primary or secondary school when the Royals won the title fourteen summers ago.
At the time, Sanju didn’t even think he would be the second captain in tournament history after Shane Warne to lead the Royals in yet another top game – that too after such a long wait! And if men of Sanju get ready to take on Gujarat Titans on Sunday at Narendra Modi Stadium, Yusuf Pathan, one of the architects of Royals’ historic 2008 IPL win, is nostalgic.
The Royals chased a tricky 164 total, losing three wickets for 42 in the first seven overs, then Yusuf stepped up and scored 56 from 39 deliveries to lead the team home. Previously, he also impressed with the ball, claiming three wickets. His all-round commitment earned him the Player of the Match award and also accolades from Warne.
‘Floodgate of memories’
“Sanju’s captaincy has been incredible in this edition of the tournament. He hasn’t let his captaincy affect his game and that has certainly helped the Royals. He has always been the most important battle and I am impressed with the way he led the team. When the team reached the final, it opened a floodgate of memories,” Yusuf told sports star on Saturday.
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He clearly remembers that night of 2008 when Rajasthan Royals went head-to-head for the odds of taking the first-ever title. “We played a different kind of cricket – that was attacking and aggressive. We lost the first game, people had written us off, but we fought back and eventually won the trophy. I know we should have kept our form from 2008, even in the later editions, but that didn’t work,” Yusuf said.
“But trust me, it’s so refreshing to see that legacy being carried over by current fate. For me, Rajasthan Royals will always be an emotion and I am extremely happy to see our boys in the final after 14 long years…”
The 2008 class had a perfect monitor in Shane Warne who was more like an older brother and mentor to all players. After the auction, not many people thought the Royals could have an impact on the tournament, as it was packed with rookies and unfettered players, along with a few internationals – including Warne, who announced his retirement from international cricket last year.
But over the course of the tournament, Warne made sure to turn inexperienced, raw talents into heroes. Although Yusuf had already played international cricket by then and was part of India’s T20 World Cup winning squad in 2007, it was also an experience for him to pick Warne’s brain. The Australian legend, who passed away in March, formed the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Swapnil Asnodkar and treated them on a par with international cricketers. And that strategy worked perfectly.
“It was a young team and not many had experience playing big tournaments, but Warne was careful with us. Slowly he developed that confidence in me and before every big game he would walk up to me and say, ‘Yusuf, you are my man. You can turn the game around and win for us…’. So those words actually encouraged me and it was no different in the final. We started discussing a few days ago and planned accordingly. Those things really helped me improve as a cricketer,” Yusuf said.
And on the advice of the coach, Yusuf would go out and enjoy. “In the final I scalped three wickets and then scored half a century, so it was a special moment. Warne was someone who always trusted me…”
Carrots for Royals
Yusuf indicates that he would be cheering for the Royals on Sunday.
Swapnil Asnodkar was prolific at the top of the order for the Royals in 2008. – RAJEEV BHATT
“One hundred percent, I will support the Royals. It will be a special moment for everyone and I am sure that the players, the management, the team owners – everyone will want to win it for Warne. He was the man who dared to dream and always thought about the improvement of the team. He has uncovered so many talents and given the team a new direction. Warne is not with us, but it is such a proud feeling that his team made it to the final,” said Yusuf .
“I will be cheering for the Royals because I have a fondness for the Royals and KKR – the two teams I’ve played for years and have so many memories with. Now that the Royals is here I wish the team would win the title…”
Asnodkar, Yusuf’s young teammate from the 2008 side, will also be cheering for the Royals in the final. While Yusuf plans to visit the ground and watch the match live, Asnodkar will follow the proceedings from his home in Porvorim, a town in Goa. “In 2008 we had beaten Chennai Super Kings in the group stage, so we were confident in the final. That year, just an hour before the final, there was a star-studded closing ceremony and Warne had told us to stay focused and not drift away. It was a big game and Warne made sure there were no distractions before the final,” Asnodkar said.
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“Looking back, it feels strange that on that team, apart from Warne and Graeme Smith, others were mostly young and inexperienced guys. Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf, Kamran Akmal, Shane Watson, Sohail Tanveer – then they were all emerging cricketers. But Warne made no distinction between seniors and juniors. It was a happy unit…”
Ahead of the final against a confident Gujarat Titans, Asnodkar is confident in the Royals’ chances. “Not making it to the finals of the tournament in the last 13-14 years has been unbelievable. But this time I think Rajasthan Royals had the best shot when they brought in R. Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal – two top spinners in the business. That strengthened the bowling department….”
“Gujarat has been a very strong team. After the first eight-nine games, Gujarat Titans were the only team that almost made it to the play-offs. It will not be an easy task for RR, but Royals is also a balanced side. I hope that Jos Buttler clicks with Sanju and then we have a very good chance,” said Asnodkar.
When the tournament got underway in 2008, there were concerns. But with Warne inspiring a bunch of youngsters and guiding them to title wins, the naysayers quickly fell in love with the IPL too. Rajasthan Royals and Shane Warne are synonymous and two months after the untimely demise of the ‘first Royals’, Sanju & Co. pay a fitting tribute to their idol, mentor and the man who gave Royals a global identity – Shane Keith Warne.