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Maheesh Theekshana Interview: Privilege to play under MS Dhoni’s leadership

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Last updated on 08 Feb 2024 | 05:09 AM
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Maheesh Theekshana Interview: Privilege to play under MS Dhoni’s leadership

In a Cricket.com exclusive, the Sri Lankan spinner spoke about his stint with Sharjah Warriors, the experience of playing under Dhoni in CSK, and much more

Maheesh Theekshana’s cricketing journey has all the best bits of cinematic experience. 

St. Benedict’s College in Colombo took the young Theekshana from the village of Sedawatta to central Colombo, where he started playing the sport for the school team. Right from finances to education, the school took utmost care of the youngster, who became one of the school's pride when he won the All Islands Best All-rounder award.

However, he was under severe scrutiny over his body weight, which was well beyond the permitted level, making it tough to pass the Yo-Yo Test. But from thereon, Theekshana’s hard work took him to the Army U-23 side, where he trained alongside yesteryear star Ajantha Mendis to maintain the strictest dietary standards. 

By 2020, Theekshana dropped around 22 kgs and later forced himself into the Lanka Premier League selection with solid performances in the 2020 Army Commander's Cup. From thereon, the off-spinner kept climbing the ladder before pushing a case for himself internationally. 

Ever since, the story has been on the upward curve, with Theekshana’s contributions to Sri Lanka’s Asia Cup win before he finally entered the Indian Premier League fold when then four-time IPL winners Chennai Super Kings snapped his services for INR 70 lakh ahead of the 2022 IPL. 

In 2023, the off-spinner was also instrumental in the franchise lifting their fifth silverware and Theekshana’s first with the Super Kings. 

Cricket.com caught up with the 23-year-old Sri Lankan mystery spinner during his stint with the Sharjah Warriors at the 2024 International League T20 (ILT20), and here’s the full interview: 

4/20 in the clash against the Capitals, 4/15 against the Giants, how would you sum up your ILT20 season so far?

Mahesh Theekshana (MT): It has been a good season thus far. I have gotten a lot of wickets (11 @ 14.27 average). I'm playing with a great bunch of guys; it is great to be here playing for the (Sharjah) Warriors.

How do you adjust your bowling, considering that the boundaries in Sharjah are very short? MT: My natural length is to bowl it short in Sharjah; there’s no bounce on the wicket, so it is not easy to hit the sixes and big shots. It is skidding on, but there’s no bounce, if they try playing sweeps, I bowl it wicket to wicket but a little bit shorter.

You served as a Private in the Gajaba regiment before being promoted to sergeant, could you talk about that interesting journey of yours? 

MT: It is great for me (promotion). I just went to the Army to play cricket, which was my goal. I also had to think about financial aspirations, with the Army paying a good salary for their players. I got a lot of opportunities with the army cricket. 

We played in the Army Commander’s League, and from there, I got a chance to play in the Lankan Premier League. They have helped me a lot from the army and have a good domestic setup. They just help me with everything and provide the facilities when I go for a league elsewhere as well. 

Is that arrow celebration of yours a tribute to the army? 

MT: No, because I just love Arrow. I used to watch the show Arrow on Netflix, and that really inspired me. I just tried to emulate what he did on the show with my celebration.

You won the All Islands Best all-rounder award back in school, from there to now, what have you done on your batting?

MT: It is very difficult (Batting back then and now) because, in school, the fast bowlers, spinners and pitches were very different. There’s more pressure at the international level. After the 2020-21 season, I didn’t have a lot of faith in my batting. 

But then I kept practising to improve my batting, and you could see the result over the last year and a half. I’m batting at my best right now; it is very stable. 

Your stint with CSK has been memorable, including winning the IPL last year, how would you put it in words?

MT: It is a great thing, just playing under MS Dhoni is a privilege, especially when I was just 21. It is a great opportunity because I’m playing with many experienced guys in India. I had a chance to play with Ambati Rayudu and DJ Bravo; they were also superstars in IPL. I also played with so many Kiwis, which has helped my game. 

Even the supporting staff are unchanged, and they know the franchise's and tournament’s history. They know how to balance the team and get the best out of the players. It is really great for me to be part of CSK.

So, did you get to talk with Muttiah Muralitharan before joining the Super Kings?

MT: I didn’t get to talk to (Muttiah) Muralitharan. I didn’t take any wickets in my first game against Hyderabad (Sunrisers), and then I had a chance to talk to him. 

He told me what were the things that I have to do more on Indian wickets and what local batters would do, I just learnt from him after that game. 

There’s this notion that MS Dhoni is a serious cricketer, but is that the same in the CSK dressing room? 

MT: I don’t think he is like a serious cricketer; sometimes he also makes jokes. For me, he is really calm and just does what he likes to do all the time in the middle. 

Did Dhoni have any word with you before entrusting death-over responsibility? 

MT: He (Dhoni) didn’t tell me I would bowl at the death before the game, either. When we played in my first year, we lost many games. But he just tried with me in the powerplay, so I got wickets. 

Then he (Dhoni) tried me in the middle-overs and the death-overs, he knew that we were playing for CSK for three years till the Mega Auction. So, that is the main thing: he tried me across the three phases. 

Actually, he (Dhoni) has faith in every bowler. We are also getting confidence, even if we (bowlers) are going for runs, he gives us the ball later in the innings. We know that he has confidence in us, and we are so happy that he backs us, and that’s why we don’t struggle. He has huge confidence in us.

Do you have any interesting narratives or stories from your training sessions at IPL? 

MT: Everything (Training) is optional in CSK; we don’t do it if we don’t want to. Normally, I do a lot of spot bowling with Eric (Simmons), where I practise my basics. 

Because it is a long tournament, we always do the basics, as you have to be fresh for the entire tournament. There are funny stories only when I’m batting because they will give me their willow to bat because the ones I have are not good enough to bat in India.

Given you said Dhoni makes jokes, could you expand on that with any incident?MT: The thing is that I dropped many catches in the first two or three games. After the tournament, when we won, I was about to return home. I said goodbye to everyone, and he (Dhoni) was also there. When I went to him, he said, “Next year, there is no bowling, only batting and fielding for you,” that’s the only thing he told me.

A slightly technical question: being a spinner who bowls a lot at the death, when do you decide what delivery you want to bowl, considering the batter's late movement? 

MT: For me, normally, I think about what I want to bowl before my run-up. So, I’m good with yorkers, I can bowl that with ease. I do a lot of spot bowling on that, for a spinner, it is a good tactical thing to do the yorker. If they try to sweep or reverse sweep, I will always get a chance to get them out. That’s the only thing.

How many variations does Theekshana have, and can you talk about the reverse carrom you bowl from the back of your hand?

MT: Back of a hand carrom ball, I’m still practising, not yet 100% comfortable with that, I’m still learning to do it correctly. I hope that this year, I can bowl that with ease. 

Regarding variations, I bowl the normal carrom ball, off-spin, and googlies. I only use one or two balls in the game because you don’t need it in T20s. I try to bowl with good economy; I normally bowl my best balls to finish my overs without conceding many runs.

Lastly, realistically, what are Sri Lanka’s chances at this year’s T20 World Cup?

MT: We (Sri Lanka) have a good balanced team in T20s; we have a very good set of fast bowlers and spinners. Our bowling unit could be key; we always have a chance to be in the top four, and we have a lot of good batters. 

All the batters in one or the other game contributed with the bat really well. Some of them are scoring 30s in every game, if they do something similar, we can be in the top four.

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