With his sheer batting prowess, Dravid, a former Indian batting bulwark, tackled world-class bowling attacks with aplomb. Since transitioning to coaching, Dravid has been shaping the careers of many youngsters, including Sanju.
“Interacting with Rahul sir at the age of 18 was really a blessing for me. I am blessed to have someone like Rahul sir in my life,” Sanju told Timesofindia.com in an exclusive interview.
Sanju was 18 when he first met his childhood hero – Dravid and got to learn a lot from the batting stalwart. When he was bought by Rajasthan Royals in 2013, he got the chance to play under Dravid’s captaincy.
“Dravid sir is a cricketer and a coach who has gone through rough times and the golden times as well. So, he knows how to communicate or how to convince a cricketer. What type of mindset we should have, or how we should prepare for a tournament, or how we should face failures and successes in our life and much more,” the 25-year-old wicket-keeper batsman said.
“I have learnt almost everything from Dravid sir from the age of 18 to 20 at the Rajasthan Royals and then during my India A stint. I would like to say that not only me, almost every youngster in the Indian team has (been) groomed under Dravid sir. He always says ‘my doors are always open’. We can call him or contact him and get his advice on any topic. Whenever I am in doubt, I call Dravid sir,” the youngster said.
Before signing for Rajasthan Royals, Sanju was part of the Kolkata Knight Riders in 2012, but he didn’t get to play a single game. The 2013 season with the Royals gave Sanju a chance to prove his mettle when he was included in the playing XI against Adam Gilchrist’s Kings XI Punjab after the first choice wicket-keeper for the Royals, Dishant Yagnik, opted out of the match due to an injury. Chasing a 125-run target, Sanju put on a solid 47-run unbeaten partnership with Ajinkya Rahane to help Royals beat Punjab by 6 wickets with 4 balls to spare. The elegant right-hander scored an unbeaten 27 off 23 balls, including three boundaries in the match. He also took three catches and ran out Praveen Kumar in the match.
“The journey has been amazing with Rajasthan Royals. When I was 18, there was no other team who gave me an opportunity on this big stage. Rajasthan Royals showed their trust in me and they saw the potential in me and they gave me the opportunity. Dravid sir was my captain and when I made my debut, he came and said ‘just go out there and express yourself’”. Sanju said.
“From that day, RR became a second family for me. Whenever I go to the Royals, I am always smiling, happy and laughing. I really enjoy playing cricket with them,” the 25-year-old who has also played 4 T20 internationals for India so far told TimesofIndia.com.
In 93 IPL career matches so far, Sanju has scored 2209 runs at an average of 27.61. He also has 10 fifties and 2 centuries under his belt.
Sanju rates his knock against the Virat Kohli-led Royal Challengers Bangalore in 2018 in their first clash of the season very highly. In that match Sanju, almost single-handedly, outgunned RCB, helping the Royals put up a mammoth total of 217 for 4 in Bengaluru. Sanju scored a scintillating 92 not out off just 45 balls, including 2 fours and 10 gigantic sixes.
Chasing 218, RCB managed 194 for 6 in 20 overs and lost the match by 19 runs.
“I think I have played a number of good knocks. I think whenever I have played an innings and my team has won, I have enjoyed it. When I scored a century last time for RR, we lost the match against Sunrisers. I remember, we scored 217/4 against RCB. I scored 92 not out off 45 balls and we won that match. I think I would like to rate it as one of my best innings for RR,” Sanju signed off.