Two years spent in the CSK nets. Then you come and make an immediate impact against CSK. Even MS Dhoni praised your control of the middle overs. What were the emotions like?

Not many emotions, honestly. I didn’t surprise myself with the way I bowled, or the way I’ve been doing… it’s just that I didn’t get to play (for CSK), but I never had doubts as to whether I could play or not. It just so happened I couldn’t play – because Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) was there in the team and all those things. I was doing well in domestic. So I honestly didn’t feel much. What I felt was, ‘I could have done this better, I could have done that better. I could have finished that over well.’ I never felt that I did something so great, I never went into that space. Honestly, maybe I was playing just my second game, but I felt so experienced, because I’ve already played 40-45 domestic games before playing the IPL. So I was pretty ready.

But still, playing domestic vs playing in IPL, against this quality of opposition, this vast an audience, some difference surely?
Honestly, because of the TNPL – we have already played in front of crowds, in front of a fully packed Chepauk. We’ve already played a lot of live games, so maybe it wasn’t that magnified. But definitely feels good. IPL is a place that is just one step below international cricket. It’s a direct relation of how international cricket is going to be. In that way it felt good, that okay, this is what this level is all about. Handling the pressure, reading the game well. Felt good, but definitely not on top of the moon (laughs).

Any extra motivation playing against CSK, because you know many of the players well? Almost like getting bragging rights over a friend?

(laughs) Little bit maybe with Ruturaj! We had always had that thing going, because I got his wicket in the practice games that we played, and I was getting the bragging rights. Then he played very well against me in the domestic match, got some 15 or 16 in the first over. So against Ruturaj, maybe a little bit. But other than that… I knew their games in and out because I’ve been bowling to them for a long time. More than just showing them or getting the bragging rights, I just wanted to be there.

I’ve always felt that the more rage you carry into a game, you can’t think clearly. You won’t just see the situation, you’ll be too attacking or too defensive.

So what you’re saying is you try to take the emotion out of the game?


If you could do that against CSK, then you can pretty much do it against anyone.

Yes, definitely!

In the Tamil Nadu team, you’ve got spinners like Ashwin and Washington Sundar, who have developed great attacking and defensive skills respectively. Do you talk about the game much with these guys?

Definitely. We as spinners, not just the TN spinners, I’m someone who likes to pick everyone’s brain. So even for international spinners. I spoke with Mitch (Santner), with Moeen. I feel us spinners need to interact a lot. I’ve learned a lot from everyone, honestly. Not directly maybe calling them and asking this, that, but just seeing videos, seeing their game, how they approach different situations. Put yourself in that situation and think what you would do, what the other guy is doing. Maybe as spinners, we are all a little bit nerdy about the game (laughs). In general, I like to talk about the game. We also have Jayant (Yadav), he is a very nice person to talk cricket with. Always good to chat about it, with all spinners.

I see myself as someone who reads the game very well. I don’t want the tag of being defensive or being attacking. I am someone who always plays for the team. If we have scored just 140, I don’t mind taking 4 for 50, but I should be looking to take wickets. And if we have scored 200, I don’t want to end up with a four or five wicket haul. If it comes good, but I’m not going to go looking for that.

For me, end of the day, I find great joy in the team winning. Winning the tournament, lifting the trophy. So for me it’s about reading the game very well and playing to the situation. Being a leader or captain in that situation. I find most pleasure in that, rather than having my stats good. That is what I’ve been trying to do for whatever team I play. So I would say I’ve got both skillsets. If the situation is there to attack, I’ll attack. If it’s there to defend, I’ll defend. Read the game very well.

And in Gujarat Titans, there’s almost a mini Tamil Nadu reunion. Did that make it easier to get into a new franchise?

Definitely feels good to have players from the same state, but I also knew a lot of players there. I knew Hardik before coming, I knew Jayant, had played league cricket with him before. So I actually knew a lot of players, but it definitely feels good to have some good filter coffee! Vijay carries his own filter coffee. We also have Rajini (trainer) here, he’s also from Chennai. I think more than getting along with the team, which – generally we’ll get along with anyone – but having that South Indian food is something that I like the most! (laughs)

Can you describe Hardik Pandya, the captain?

Hardik to me has been pretty simple. The last game he came to me and said, ‘Left-hander is batting, do you want me to tell you anything, or you know?’ I said, ‘I know, I’ll take care’. I find Hardik as a very strong personality. He carries himself with a lot of confidence, and has confidence in his players as well. Not trying to impose himself on all the players. Give them their space, their freedom and ‘you express yourselves. If something goes wrong, I’ll be there’. That’s how I’ve seen Hardik.

It's been amazing being here, with Ashu pa and Hardik. Ashu pa has made sure that everybody feels so secure in this team. Even when I was playing the 12th game of the season, I still felt like I need to contribute something for the team. Didn’t feel like I’ve been left out or something like that. We’ve all felt so secure and a lot of credit needs to be given to the both of them making the environment like that.

I’ve always loved the kinds of captains who give the responsibility to the player, rather than just imposing always. Then your instincts just get cut off. Credit to captains like that, always fun to play like that!

Gujarat Titans seem to have really meticulous bowling plans, every game, for every major opposition batsman. Can you describe how a bowlers’ meeting goes?

Honestly, there has not been ‘planning’ planning as such. We just sit together and discuss for half an hour, 40 minutes, what is the devised plan. The good thing about the team is, we have proper bowlers. We don’t have half-bowlers, half-batters. Whoever has played, they knew their roles, proper. It’s like five professionals handling their work, so the results have come. You don’t need to sit down and coach them in general. It’s five professional players showing up and doing their skillsets to the best they can.

Other IPL teams have had that, but they’ve not had the success Gujarat Titans have had. Surely, something must be there?

Definitely, Ashu pa being a fast bowler himself, he’s someone who reads the game very well. He has kept it pretty simple, like ‘this guy is a compulsive puller’, ‘this guy is good square of the wicket’, ‘this guy is good when it’s pitched up, let’s not give it up’. It’s been simple, but clear plans to execute. With Ashu pa also being a bowler, it has helped us so much. It has made the job very easy.

So he has clarity of thought and can tell you crisply what to do, and you guys can implement that and understand it easily because you’re all proper bowlers?

Yes, definitely. It’s like, you tell us what to do, we’ll execute it.


You also have the greatest T20 spinner in the world in Rashid Khan. He’s not a similar bowler to you but there must be stuff to pick up from him?

Rashid is someone who can bowl with pace and deviate the ball both sides. That’s Rashid’s game. It’s a game that’s so hard to get – but once you get that game, you don’t have to do much. Just have to bowl that length.

My game is about game awareness, speed variations, changing the releases, changing the angles, being smart, reading the batters. So for my game, more than the skill, it’s all in the head for me. That’s the beauty of cricket, different skillsets. Like some batsmen can sweep, some can’t. Some are good down the ground, some are good with the pull. I see it that way. I’m very comfortable in my game and confident in my own skillsets. So I don’t look to pick up something from others. Unless my game is going blatantly wrong in one direction. I always try to pick up something from each game that I watch. I try and watch all the IPL games, try and get better with my own game.

But the overall game sense that Rashid brings to the table, I think he has been one of the great competitors that I’ve seen. Just wants the tough overs, wants to do that for the team. That competitive intensity is very nice to have. Two bowlers bowling in tandem, it’s very good to see. If two people can show up like that, it’s going to be very hard for the batters.

So, you enjoy bowling alongside Rashid?

Definitely! Because when people find it hard to go after Rashid, they’ll go after me, which is nice. When we both bowl together, they want to go after someone else, so it makes the job easier. And when you have five bowlers who can do that, obviously it’s going to… he might get hit some days but most days it’s going to be under control.  

You have said earlier that you were working on variations, but have not deployed them in a game yet. What’s the status on those?

I did it in one or two TNPL games, but didn’t feel very good, because the situation was not there. If the situation arises where the skillset that I possess is not enough or feels very inadequate, that is the only time I’ll be looking to deploy the variations or something like that. Until the base game doesn’t go horribly wrong, it doesn’t feel right to change the pattern.

But definitely, to get better, I’ve always felt I need to improve and get more variations. Also, fighting the perceptions of being a finger-spinner. I don’t understand the point how a wrist-spinner can be directly better than a finger-spinner. Or how a so-called mystery spinner can be directly better than a finger spinner. Unless the stats who horribly wrong, it makes no sense. Like with batting, some are good with the sweep, some are good hitting down the ground, some are good with the pull – ultimately the runs matter. That’s how I see it.

Are any of the variations things that you can reveal?

I can bowl the carom ball, I can bowl the back-spinner. I even tried bowling the googly. Something like what this new guy from Mumbai Indians is doing (Kumar Kartikeya). I tried doing that, but didn’t feel very good. Obviously, it’s variations. It’s not going to be better than my base bowling. Until and unless my base bowling goes horribly wrong, or becomes so predictable that they can just come out lashing at me, I’m not going to do that (laughs).

Maybe you’ll see me doing it when a team is 80 for 8 and it doesn’t matter!

You’ve bowled in the powerplay, middle overs, death also…

I always feel that when you’re a bowler, you can’t pick phases to bowl. You need to be ready to bowl all 20 overs. I feel I am ready to bowl all 20 overs. It’s just that I need to prove it, especially as a finger spinner. You need to go against the tide and prove people wrong by doing it again and again. I look forward to doing it. I feel I’m ready, it’s just that through time I should deliver.

In the auction, you saw Gujarat Titans outbid Rajasthan Royals, Delhi Capitals, Chennai Super Kings and Punjab Kings, and you went for considerably above base price. What were your emotions when you knew you were going to Gujarat?

In 2016, 2017 and 2018 auctions I went unsold. I always believed that through those auctions, I grew as a player. I felt that okay maybe this is not good enough, I need to get better. That’s how I saw the auctions. I never saw them as a big report card on how good a player is, or how not good a player is. Coming to this auction, I felt that whatever happens in this auction – whether I get a good bid, whether I don’t get a good bid, whether I go unsold – I clearly wrote down what I’m going to get better at. The cash, the fame, getting to a good team doesn’t matter. So the cash never really bothered me. I have always had a very simple life and simple needs. So I was very clear about what I need to do and what I need to get better. I was very fixated on that. Felt good to have a value in the auction, but again, it was not as if I was on top of the moon.

We’re nearer the end of the IPL, so would you say you’re a better cricketer now than at the start of the IPL?

100 percent. Might not be evident, because once you cross the base stage, the difference will just be 1 percent better. It won’t be drastic because all bases are covered. So you just try and get better by percentages. This IPL I’ve definitely got a lot stronger, a lot fitter. I didn’t play the first half so I trained a lot in the gym. I’ve gotten faster in the field.

The Gujarat Titans seem to have hit that perfect balance of team environment. Everyone is secure but no one taking it easy, everyone relaxed but still intensity is there. How has that happened?

I think credit needs to be given to Ashu pa. He’s not going to leave you to just sit back and relax. It’s not going to happen with him. He’s going to push you, no matter what. If you don’t show up for two sessions, he’s going to let you know, ‘You need to come boss. You need to hit balls. You need to get better.’

He has been more of a friend, but when hard things need to be said, he’s been that guy. So a lot of credit needs to be given to Ashu pa.