Hardik is the junior version of Dhoni: R Sai Kishore

He warmed the benches during his two seasons with Chennai Super Kings, but when R Sai Kishore got the big break thanks to Gujarat Titans in this IPL season — the Tamil Nadu left-arm spinner made an impression. The 25-year-old’s 6 wickets from 5 matches at an economy rate of 7.56 for Gujarat showed that Sai Kishore is more than ready for the IPL stage. Sai Kishore was spot on in his IPL debut against Lucknow Super Giants with figures of 2-0-7-2.

After that game, Gujarat skipper Hardik Pandya had remarked, “I’ve rated him quite high as a left-arm spinner. He’s quite a technical bowler. Because of his height and his pace, he gets a little extra from the pitch.” Interestingly, it was Sai Kishore’s sharp fielding — having Quinton de Kock caught at cover point region — that first caught the eye. “I was bought for good money (Rs 3 crore) from the auctions by the Titans.

The catch of Quinton eased my nerves a little bit. It was important for me to repay the faith Gujarat Titans showed in me and I am happy to have done well in the opportunities I got,” Sai Kishore told TOI. Sai Kishore also thanked his coaches R Prasanna and R Ramkumar for shaping his game in the last few years.

“They have played a key part in my growth as a cricketer,” Sai Kishore said. It was no surprise that Gujarat Titans saw potential in Sai Kishore, thanks to his exploits in the domestic T20 circuit. Sai Kishore has shown great form in the last three editions of the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s (SMAT).

Not only was he among wickets, but he got them at a fantastic economy-rate. If the 2019 SMAT season saw him take 20 scalps in 12 games at an economy of 4.63, Sai Kishore bagged 8 wickets in as many matches at 4.82 in the next edition of the competition. His fine run continued during the 2021-22 SMAT as well where he took 10 scalps in 8 outings at an economy of 6.06.

“Not only on my fitness and skills, I have also worked hard on my game awareness. I want to make each of my 24 deliveries count in a T20 game,” Sai Kishore pointed out. Despite never getting match time with CSK, Sai Kishore felt his stint with the side only helped him to read the game better. “Bowling to MS Dhoni at the nets and speaking to him about the game did a world of good for me. My game-reading skills have improved,” Sai Kishore mentioned.

Having been part of a team led by Dhoni, how did he rate Hardik’s captaincy? “There are a lot of similarities between the two. Much like Dhoni, Hardik has the knack of getting the best out of his players. Both put the team before themselves and that’s what you expect from your leader. I would call Hardik the junior version of Dhoni,” he said.

Being part of Gujarat also gave Sai Kishore the opportunity to bowl alongside the ever-consistent Rashid Khan. “He is just brilliant in what he does. He is constantly looking to contribute — be it with the bat or ball or on the field and that’s a skill to have,” Sai Kishore mentioned. A memorable season notwithstanding, Sai Kishore will now head back to the drawing board. “It was a great season but I feel I can do better. I will want to continue improving my game in the coming months,” he said.