Until 2016, a 21-year-old Ramsingh Sanjay Yadav was just like another budding cricketer in the Tamil Nadu circuit. While there was a section that was caught up with his exploits, there was a world in front of him that hadn’t.
Enter the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL), the T20 league that was going to shape how the world looked at the 21-year-old.
In six games that season, he had only 135 runs but there was a certain way that he went about during his stay at the crease. Tamil Nadu has often been a state that has been synonymous with ‘touch players’, but Sanjay was having none of that. He possessed a power that could clear any boundary with ease and played with freedom that the tournament represented.
Despite that, he still hadn’t caught the attention of everyone. But his ongoing stint with Mumbai Indians made him wilier, experienced and stronger. While opportunities came few and far at the Indian Premier League (IPL) stage, Sanjay was more interested in putting that experience to his reputation.
In the Tamil Nadu cricketing circuit, Sanjay was by now already known as a fearsome hitter. But still, there was this hunger that was there in the left-hander that was to be filled. Gone were the preying days, it was a time for the feast.
When he stepped out at the India Cement Ground in Tirunelveli, there was a new Sanjay, one that was now enriched with regular conversations with the Mumbai Indians’ street-smart minds. And when his brother, Sonu Yadav, removed Baba Indrajith, the scene was set.
It was the battle of the two Yadav brothers.
Sometimes, the best adrenaline is when the battle is with high-stakes, this one was perhaps one in the Yadav household, who several years before had moved from Gorakhpur to Hosur. It was the younger brother Sonu vs the elder brother, Sanjay.
Against the defending champions, Chepauk Super Gillies, Sanjay was ready. When he marked his stance, there was something that said that the Eagle was coming. When he casually flicked one off the pads, even Subramaniam Badrinath, the commentator, could not believe his eyes.
It raced away to the boundary in a fraction of seconds. That was how Sanjay played his cricket. He combined power with touch, aggression with consistency and IPL experience into a truck-load of runs in the TNPL. The 27-year-old is as powerful as a batter could get against spin.
In fact, since 2020 TNPL, the left-hander has scored 146 runs against spinners at a strike-rate of 173.81, scoring a six every seventh ball.
He has only been dismissed by spinners once in 84 deliveries, showing how his game against spin is possibly one of the best even in the country. But the way he tormented a champion bowling side in CSG, it was worth a million dollars. When the ball leaves Sanjay’s bat, it is often like music when he is in full flow, and spinners are often taken out of the attack. He absolutely decimated the bowling, scoring 87 runs off just 47 balls, hitting six sixes in the process.
“I try to finish the game. I take it till the end, I know I can hit big shots, but if I start and end well, it will be good for the team,” when he uttered those words after becoming the Player of the Match at the post-match presentation, it was not a conclusion of an innings but the start of perhaps, the biggest one.
Mumbai Indians did not use a lot of Sanjay but Sanjay used a whole of that MI knowledge into his middle-over game at this year’s TNPL. In overs 7-15, the left-hander has scored 185 runs off just 104 balls, striking at 177.88, scoring a boundary every 4.16 deliveries, six every 7.43 deliveries. In fact, 69.18% of his runs in this year’s tournament during the middle-over phase have come via boundaries.
In fact, he strikes at 186.15 against spin. Both Dindigul Dragons and Madurai Panthers have borne the brunt in this year’s tournament. They know it first-hand. In Nellai’s third game of the season, a rain-curtailed one, Sanjay came out swinging, scoring 55 runs off just 19 deliveries, an innings where he cleared the boundary six times.
At that point, Sanjay not only was a top player against spin but also was in the race to become the top run-scorer in the tournament. It was perhaps the first time in his career that he had progressed beyond just a basher, or was it?
Back in 2020, playing for Meghalaya, the all-rounder struck a vital 254* in the Ranji Trophy, thereby already establishing himself as a proven batter. But amidst the growing demand of the shortest format, it is never enough to live on the past reputation.
Over the course of the next ten days, from July 5 to July 15, he put on a show that now has established him as one of the best batters in Tamil Nadu, alongside proving his worth against the spinners. On a night where most of the headlines would have read, “A valiant Vijay innings goes in vain as Nellai Royal Kings continue their run,” there was a Sanjay Yadav special.
It was also a night where the record books tumbled. Whilst he had a tough start to his innings, when he was at 12 off 19, an innocuous off-spin kicked off a long night for the Ruby Warriors. Just eight deliveries later, he once again ripped into the off-spinner to hit the ball into the streets. It would have cleared any boundary on any day. When he brought up his half-century, it was off 35 deliveries later.
Little did people know that 20 deliveries later, he would complete a fine century in the most Sanjay Yadav-like fashion, with a six. His century was perhaps a big statement in the Tamil Nadu circuit, but for those who have known the all-rounder, it is just the start of the journey.
“I have practised hitting a lot of sixes. I am trying to rotate the strike as well,” said Sanjay at the post-match presentation, but little did he say he was going to take the TNPL by storm. By now, the Yadav-household are pretty well-known in the Tamil Nadu cricketing circuit.
But the next step is for the world to take notice of them.
(All stats updated till 18 July 2022)