With Jadeja as inspiration, Saumy makes transition from academics to cricket

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Chennai, Feb 6 (PTI) Teenage Indian left-arm spinner Saumy Kumar Pandey, one of the leading wicket-takers in the ongoing U19 World Cup in South Africa, possesses a striking similarity to Ravindra Jadeja's bowling action.

The reason is simple: the veteran India allrounder is Pandey's inspiration.

Hailing from Rewa in Madhya Pradesh, Pandey was fascinated by Jadeja's body language and intent on the field and tried every single day to emulate his icon.

The cricketer has shown tremendous potential for the future with 16 wickets in five games so far, with a best of 4/19.

"Jadeja has been his inspiration. He has been fascinated by Jadeja's body language and fielding intent," Pandey's childhood coach Aril Anthony told PTI on Tuesday.

According to Anthony, Pandey is also a brilliant student, who passed his higher secondary subjects with flying colours.

So, what made him foray into cricket? "Initially, when he started playing cricket at age 7 or 8, he was physically very weak. He was advised by doctors to do some physical activity to boost his immunity," added Anthony.

"His father told me that he had a huge interest in cricket since childhood and was able to hold the bat at the age of three or four.

"He was a sharp kid. Even in academics, he scored around 93 per cent in Higher Secondary. His parents wanted him to be an engineer or a doctor but were left spellbound after seeing him bowl under my guidance (chuckles).

"He has a knack of grasping things quickly and implements them well, which is what you are currently witnessing at the World Cup," said his coach.

Both his parents are government teachers, which could be the reason he has excelled in academics and also quickly honed the intricacies of spin bowling.

Anthony said that when Pandey, the highest wicket-taker for India in the U19 World Cup so far, came to him, the teenager's wish was to become an all-rounder like Jadeja.

"He wanted to become an all-rounder and was very much interested in batting as well. However, the skill that impressed me the most was his bowling, and I advised him to focus on his bowling. He started as a spinner; he was never into fast bowling," added Anthony.

Anthony said that besides bagging 135 wickets in the last three years at the junior level, Pandey also finished as the second-highest wicket-taker in district-level U16 and U19 tournaments.

He has also fared well in the 2023-24 Cooch Behar Trophy, where he emerged as the second-highest wicket-taker for Madhya Pradesh, scalping 23 wickets in nine innings at an average of 15.17.

Pandey's good run of form could attract him towards the Indian Premier League but Anthony has cautioned the youngster not to get carried away.

"Currently, he is focused on white-ball cricket, and I have advised him to focus only on one-day cricket for now. He has shared his dream of playing in the IPL, but I have told him not to think about it now.

"Suppose he gets picked by an IPL team now and is hammered for sixes aplenty, it could affect his confidence. So, he should progress step by step, starting with India U19, followed by the Ranji Trophy, and then thinking about Team India and the IPL.

"He has started getting IPL-related calls. It will depend on how he fares in the next domestic season. If he fares well and confidently tells me about going to the IPL, I will give him the go-ahead. But I can't predict if there will be a bidding war for him, which will depend on his domestic performance," he said.

Anthony feels Pandey has done a good job as vice-captain of the U19 World Cup team. The coach felt that the key to becoming a successful leader is getting to know the teammates well and "opening up to them".

"I told him that during team meetings, he has to talk to every player and get to know more about them. Some players don't participate in team meetings, and he has to deal with them first. In the World Cup, while he has displayed aggression, he likes to work with the team." Anthony cautioned his ward that in order to make a place in the senior India side, he would not just face competition from home state players but from cricketers across the country.

"There are a lot of players in contention for Team India berths, and not all are lucky enough. While he (Pandey) would need to work hard, sometimes luck also is a factor.

"India currently has three senior teams, and all the players in it have made an impact. So, he would not only get competition from his state players but cricketers from across India," he added. PTI AYG AM AYG AM AM