Sai Kishore’s name has been synonymous with serial-winner. The 26-year-old, in his young career, has already won two Indian Premier League titles - one with Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in IPL 2020 and the other with Gujarat Titans (GT) in 2022.
He has also been part of the two-time Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (SMAT) winning Tamil Nadu setup. Not just these, he has also been part of the successful Chepauk Super Gillies (CSG) franchise, where he’s won multiple Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) titles.
To go with all these flashy silverwares, the left-arm spinner was also an integral member of the South Zone setup, which completed a domestic double - Duleep and Deodhar Trophy - where he contributed both with bat and ball.
In an exclusive chat with Cricket.com, the left-arm spinner opens up about his cricketing journey as a serial winner and the future of Tamil Nadu cricket.
You have this knack for winning titles, so how does it feel to add another one - Deodhar Trophy - to your kitty?
Feel very grateful, it started with Duleep Trophy, we should give Hanuma Vihari a lot of credit, it was a one-man show. Vihari led the team well, and because many of us have been playing cricket together since childhood, it was quite easy to connect.
Everyone were playing for the team, and from there, we just picked up momentum.
How about Mayank Agarwal’s leadership, and what do you make of South Zone’s atmosphere in the dressing room? Also, the team constantly motivated each other, how did that work?
Mayank is also a hungry captain, he pushes the players to the max, which really helped us. It worked perfectly for us, credit needs to be given to all the players as well. Playing for yourselves in such a tournament is easy, but not for the team. In both tournaments, the players played for the team's cause and not for themselves.
I think it starts from outside, we didn’t talk about motivating each other. But we go to dinner together, we are all pretty close. We are playing for different states - Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry - but we were all united most times.
It just came out of the feeling of being together, and except for Vyshak (Vijaykumar), most of the bowlers were okay. A lot of drop catches were off his bowling (chuckles).
Let’s talk about you, you usually bat lower down the order, but you were constantly chirping and appreciating the South Zone top-order, where does that come from?
I feel it also comes with the realisation of doing my duty, when I’m bowling, I like to give my 100% to the team, and I like to throw myself on the ground. So I felt I should be the same while I’m in the dugout. It is the least (cheering) that I could do for the team. In domestic, sometimes the crowd doesn’t show up, so our cheering will benefit the team, it will uplift them.
It also shows the opposition that the team works as a unit and is together, so that message is sent as well. That is also because of doing your process and not worrying too much about the results. If we all do it religiously, the results will start taking care of itself, so that was really the plan.
I felt that the (Karnataka) pace bowlers bowled really well. It was not something that I expected a lot, really, the way the fast bowlers bowled it was fantastic. Whether it was the bowling here in Deodhar Trophy or the Duleep Trophy, they were top-class, and it really stood out.
Is it as easy for a spinner when the conditions are this favourable, or does a lot of hard work go behind picking wickets?
Absolutely, we (spinners) have to work really hard to get the first few wickets. If every time the first two wickets are taken care of by the pacers, it makes our job easier. Two-three wickets, and you usually can break the team. That way, the fast bowlers really did a good job.
I would say, there was assistance, it usually is there in the sub-continent, and there’s no hiding that. But it is the same for pacers in different conditions, but that doesn’t guarantee that a bowler can become unplayable.
You have to do your job; still, it is easier for sure, and the pitches are conducive to it. But for a pacer, even if they want to dig a bouncer, sometimes it doesn’t travel.
So, it makes the job easier. Just because it is slow, you have to deliver it still. It is like saying that if there’s a flat track, the batter surely has to score a hundred. It isn’t a guarantee. You still have to do the job.
There was this added pressure or motivation with young kids cheering your team from the sideline in Pondicherry, how was that feeling?
It was superb to see the kids playing around. You also want to make their day better by taking selfies, signing autographs, and all those things. It was overwhelming to see, for domestic cricket, you don’t see such a crowd normally. Even in the Duleep Trophy, there was a crowd, so it was nice to see.
Talk us through your batting display against North Zone in the semi-final of the Duleep Trophy earlier in the year, and what improvements have you made to your batting?
That match was actually superb, I have been batting well since the TNPL, so I was carrying that good form into the Duleep Trophy. But that match was more about who handled the pressure well, and it is always good to play in such matches where there are such stakes, and the heat is so much. It is superb to play such matches.
To win those games, it is even more special.
It was about my own way of handling pressure, second thing was that I got out to spin in the first innings (against Jayant Yadav), with three runs required. I had to learn pretty quickly in just a day and repeat myself under such pressure. These two things were something that I learnt quickly.
The confidence came from the last few years of TNPL, and the confidence with the bat actually picked up. From there, I have just added that gear to my game. It was more about the surface, making it difficult to go down the ground, so I adapted to the situation. I knew who will bowl to me, so I was mentally prepared. I just had to be prepared. I always had that shot (sweep) but never used it fully.
Now, you had to bowl against the likes of Riyan Parag and Kumar Kushagra in the Deodhar Trophy final, was it a big challenge?
I look forward to such situations, that’s really when you get tested. Only then will you improve. I want to be in that moment and compete, I don’t really feel pressure or anything. I haven’t bowled to Riyan Parag a lot, I haven’t played a lot against him.
In whatever matches we have faced each other, he has either got out, or I haven’t bowled enough. So, I was still trying to figure his game out, trying to see what he does and doesn’t. He batted really well. With Kushagra (Kumar), I had played against him, so I had a fair idea of where to bowl and how to bowl, but with Riyan, it was a superb battle.
There were expectations that you would be in Gujarat Titans’ playing XI, were you gutted about not getting an opportunity last IPL?
It is fine because only twelve could play, so sometimes, as individuals, you get selfish and think you should play. I just feel you should pick yourself in such a situation and take my game up there at the international level.
How I bowled at Deodhar gives me a lot of confidence. If suddenly someone asks me to compete at the international level, I will be ready. It is only a matter of time, so when it comes, it will just flow.
You led Tamil Nadu last year, and you have had the opportunity to learn from the likes of Hardik Pandya, MS Dhoni and Dinesh Karthik up close, what have you picked up from their captaincy style?
Firstly, I’m still unsure who will lead this year. Last year, I did captain my team for one game. Sulakshan (Kulkarni), sir, I think will come up with a name for the leadership. If I lead the team, I will give my 100%, and I play for the team, so there will be an extra tag. Hardik (Pandya) and (MS) Dhoni had their leadership style.
Dinesh (Karthik), when he led Tamil Nadu, it was more of he’s a senior and guiding all of us. Dhoni says things without talking, with just his action and hand movement, everything that he says will happen (all without saying).
So if I have to lead Tamil Nadu, we obviously have very good players and representation. It is just that few calls and a few areas that haven’t gone our way, even when Indar (Indrajith) led us last year, we were very good. So, it is only a matter of time and we will get it all right this year.
I think we haven’t really performed to our fullest, but some players have done really well. This year, Tamil Nadu is very serious about red-ball cricket, we will be sorted this year. Everyone is very keen on winning, there is this aura as well. I think every problem will be solved.
There are a lot of left-arm spinners in the country, does that add more pressure on you, or do you have a different outlook on competition?
Honestly speaking, you can’t really call it competition, we all will get to play sometime. We are just playing, we are all inconsequential, really, in the larger scheme of things. There is no competition, just want to improve myself and be better equipped for the situation. That’s all I can really do.
It is impossible for me to say that I can beat all of them, I’m not running that rat race, I’m content with what I have, and I’m still improving. It has no relation with what others are doing, I don’t even care about the stats, all those things don’t matter to me. I want to keep enjoying myself. There’s no point in saying that we should do that or do this. I think there is great joy in motivating the batters, I know that I can still be joyful and happy about everything that way.
Lastly, what do you feel about players preferring formats? Do you see yourself leaning towards one? Also, you are part of the Asian Games setup, how does that feel?
If you ask me, I will tell you that I want to play red-ball, I’m going to play league cricket, I’m going to play Buchi-Babu, for me, that is there. If someone wants to prefer TNPL/IPL over red-ball, that’s also fine. I like all formats of the game. I don’t call the red-ball format pure. Because of playing T20 cricket, I have improved my batting, so I don’t look at it that way, and for me, all formats are equally important.
Very excited about the Asian Games, I really train with a lot of Table tennis players, and I know how big a tournament Asian Games is and how big the tournament is globally as well. Grateful that BCCI have picked me in the squad and have a chance to compete globally, and I’m very grateful for that.
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