Sanju Samson watched the 2008 Indian Premier League final with his Kerala U-16 team-mates when Rajasthan Royals defeated a star-studded Chennai Super Kings at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai.
Like Sanju, most of his current colleagues at Rajasthan Royals must have been in junior or senior school when the Royals clinched the title fourteen summers ago.
Back then, Sanju did not even imagine that after Shane Warne, he would be the second captain in the history of the tournament to guide the Royals in yet another summit clash – that too after such a long wait! And as Sanju’s men gear up to take on Gujarat Titans on Sunday at the Narendra Modi Stadium, Yusuf Pathan, one of the architects of Royals’ historic IPL win in 2008, is nostalgic.
Chasing a tricky total of 164, Royals lost three wickets for 42 inside the first seven overs, and that’s when Yusuf stepped up and scored 56 off 39 deliveries to guide the team home. Earlier, he impressed with the ball as well, claiming three wickets. His all-round effort earned him the Player of the Match award and also accolades from Warne.
‘Floodgate of memories’
“Sanju’s captaincy has been incredible in this edition of the tournament. He has not let captaincy affect his game and that certainly has helped the Royals. He has been the batting mainstay and I am impressed with the way he led the team. As the team reached the final, it opened a floodgate of memories,” Yusuf told Sportstar on Saturday.
He distinctly remembers that evening of 2008 when Rajasthan Royals battled the odds to clinch the first-ever title. “We played a different brand of cricket – which was attacking and aggressive. We had lost the first match, people had written us off, but we fought back and eventually won the trophy. I know we should have maintained our 2008 form even in the later editions, but we could not,” Yusuf said.
“But trust me, it is so refreshing to see that legacy being carried forward by the current lot. For me, Rajasthan Royals will always be an emotion and I am extremely happy to see our boys in the final after 14 long years…”
The class of 2008 had a perfect monitor in Shane Warne, who was more like an elder brother and mentor to all the players. After the auction, not many thought that the Royals could make an impact in the tournament because it was packed with rookies and uncapped players, along with a few internationals – including Warne, who had announced his retirement from international cricket the previous year.
But during the course of the tournament, Warne ensured that he made heroes out of inexperienced, raw talents. Even though Yusuf had already played international cricket by then and was part of India’s 2007 T20 World Cup-winning side, getting to pick Warne’s brain was also an experience for him. The Aussie legend, who passed away in March, moulded the likes of Ravindra Jadeja and Swapnil Asnodkar and treated them on a par with international cricketers. And, that strategy worked perfectly.
“It was a young team and not many had experience of playing big-ticket tournaments, but Warne handled us with care. Slowly, he developed that trust and confidence in me and ahead of every big game, he would walk up to me and say, ‘Yusuf, you are my man. You can turn the game and win it for us…’. So, those words actually encouraged me and it was no different in the final as well. We started discussing a couple of days ago and planned accordingly. Those things actually helped me improve as a cricketer,” Yusuf said.
And following the coach’s advice, Yusuf would go out there and enjoy. “In the final, I scalped three wickets and then scored a half-century, so it was a special moment. Warne was someone who always trusted me…”
Rooting for Royals
Yusuf specifies he would cheer for the Royals on Sunday.
Swapnil Asnodkar was prolific at the top of the order for the Royals in 2008. – RAJEEV BHATT
“Hundred per cent, I will support the Royals. For everyone it will be a special moment and I am sure that the players, the management, the team owners – everybody will want to win it for Warne. He was the man who dared to dream and always thought for the betterment of the team. He unearthed so many talents and gave the team a new direction. Warne is not with us, but it is such a proud feeling that his team has made it to the final,” Yusuf said.
“I will cheer for the Royals because I have a fondness for the Royals and KKR – the two teams where I have played for years and have so many memories. Now that, Royals is there, I would want the team to win the title…”
Asnodkar, Yusuf’s young team-mate from the 2008 side, will also cheer for Royals in the final. While Yusuf plans to visit the ground and watch the match live, Asnodkar will watch the proceedings from his home in Porvorim, a town in Goa. “In 2008, we had beaten Chennai Super Kings in the group league match, so going into the final, we were confident. That year, just an hour before the final, there was a starry closing ceremony and Warne had told us to stay focused and not drift away. It was a big match and Warne made sure that there was no distraction before the final,” Asnodkar said.
“When I look back, it feels strange that in that team apart from Warne and Graeme Smith, others were mostly young and inexperienced guys. Ravindra Jadeja, Yusuf, Kamran Akmal, Shane Watson, Sohail Tanveer – back then, they all were upcoming cricketers. But Warne did not differentiate between seniors and juniors. It was one happy unit…”
Ahead of the final against a confident Gujarat Titans, Asnodkar is confident of Royals’ chances. “RR not making it to the final of the tournament for the last 13-14 years was unbelievable. But this time, I think Rajasthan Royals had the best chance as they roped in R. Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal – two top spinners in business. That bolstered the bowling department….”
“Gujarat has been a very strong team. After the first eight-nine games, Gujarat Titans was the only team that almost made it to the playoffs. It won’t be an easy task for RR, but then, Royals is also a well-balanced side. I hope Jos Buttler clicks along with Sanju and then we have a very good chance,” Asnodkar said.
When the tournament kicked off in 2008, there were apprehensions. But with Warne inspiring a bunch of youngsters and guiding them to title win, the naysayers, too, soon fell in love with the IPL. Rajasthan Royals and Shane Warne are synonymous and two months after the ‘first Royal’s’ untimely demise, Sanju & Co. will be hoping to pay a fitting tribute to their idol, mentor and the man who gave Royals a global identity – Shane Keith Warne.