R Sai Kishore: Debut and not wonder if I belonged in IPL, my biggest takeaway

The year 2022 was an endless joyride for R Sai Kishore from Tamil Nadu. He entered the IPL mega auction in February at his base price of Rs 20 lakh and after a bidding war which included his former franchise Chennai Super Kings, he was picked up by Gujarat Titans for Rs 3 crore.

Kishore was part of one of CSK’s title-winning squads (2021). But he warmed the bench for three seasons, despite his consistently good returns in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, India’s domestic T20 competition, during that time. So when asked what his biggest takeaway was, in a season where he won a second straight title, this time with newcomer Titans, Kishore said: “I was relieved to finally make my debut and not just wonder if I belonged. (at IPL) or not.”

The frugal spin on the 25-year-old’s left arm netted him six wickets in five games with a 7.56 thrift cut and proved to be the ideal defender for leg spinner Rashid Khan in the Titans’ title run. Kishore didn’t play the first half of the tournament and had to wait for the fields in Mumbai and Pune to slow down and start spinning to see inside.

But the looming possibility of another season on the bench left him in no doubt. And Kishore cited clearly defined goals and clear management communication as the main reasons. “Ashu pa (Head Coach Ashish Nehra) wanted to play an extra fast bowler in Mumbai. He didn’t want to risk an extra spinner at that time. It was communicated to me clearly. So it was very easy for me to be in a good space. Ashu Pa handled the non-playing members wonderful. We got a fair amount of net practice.”

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Kishore’s most telling contribution came in Qualifier 1 against the Rajasthan Royals at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. After being hit for two fours by a marauding Sanju Samson in his first over, Kishore came back for his second, close on the heels of a two-run Rashid Khan over. His mastery of tempo changes and game awareness could be seen as he defeated Samson in the air, keeping him long on the line for 47 out of 26. Speaking of that spell, Kishore said, “In most of the matches I played, I was licensed to to attack – throw the ball up, bowl a little slower and try to get a wicket At Eden Gardens I passed two limits in my first Rajasthan was going strong at that stage and I wanted to defend.

“But I hadn’t played much in Kolkata so I underestimated the field. The two boundary balls on a different surface would have held the wicket and went to the sweeper cover and not behind the point. Then Hardik (Pandya) walked me and said, “Just come your normal height. Let’s bring the straight squares into play”. So it was a gamble that paid off (smiles)

As much as he loves to learn from others, Kishore’s focus during these two months was less on figuring out his teammates’ brains and more on implementing what he already knows. “Instead of saying ‘I want to learn more’, I wanted to maximize what I already know. Developing my instincts.

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“Because when you play, the learning is there, it’s better to get feedback on what you’re doing – if it works, great, and if it doesn’t work, you learn and move on. I tried to express myself in which cartridges i too have soaked up my toil in domestic cricket and use it here and see how it works.

“I haven’t played many games at this level. The skills are there, but I want to play more because your instincts get better when you react to situations in real time rather than in simulations. I learned a lot during my time at CSK. And I’m grateful to be able to gain experience playing games with GT.”

Gujarat Titans held a victory parade in an open-top bus on May 30 to celebrate the title triumph. However, Kishore couldn’t be seen with his top-level teammates cheering. “I’m a bit shy so I didn’t go upstairs (smiles)† I was in the bottom row,” he said. “But the celebrations were heartwarming. There were many excited fans making noise outside. It was my first large-scale public celebration after a title win.”

Kishore’s stock will rise after he lives up to the IPL hype. Now that he’s in the spotlight, he’ll also have to learn to accept and deal with the flak and admiration at the same time.

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