Sai Kishore - spinning fingers and Madipakkam dreams

R Sai Kishore in action for Tamil Nadu R Sai Kishore

Twelve wickets in six games at an economy rate of 3.86 - the best among bowlers who have bowled at least 10 overs in the 2019-20 Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament. And a large chunk of his 24 overs have come in the Powerplay, when there are just two men outside the circle. Twenty-three-year-old Tamil Nadu left-arm fingerspinner R Sai Kishore has been largely responsible for his team progressing to the Super League stage without breaking a sweat.

Even after Washington Sundar, India's new-ball spinner, returned to the Tamil Nadu side, Kishore has been the first-choice option for the state in the Powerplay. He was part of the Tamil Nadu side that clinched both the Vijay Hazare and Deodhar titles in 2016-17, and now believes that he has greater control over his lines and lengths, something that has been central to his success in the Powerplay in the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy.

"According to me one of the hardest phases to bowl, as a spinner, is during the Powerplay," Kishore told ESPNcricinfo. "Sometimes, you can get away in the death, as a spinner, as the ball might be old then. With just two fielders outside the circle, it is very hard to control the runs. I am really thankful to have that skillset to bowl in the Powerplay. The hard lengths and the change of pace you need in the Powerplay I feel I'm getting it naturally.

"My height also works to my advantage and I have long fingers which allow me to spin the ball nicely. Sometimes, you can get under the ball as a batsman, but I tend to give more overspin on the ball and so far it has been useful for me."

ALSO READ: Sai Kishore, Dinesh Karthik take TN to Vijay Hazare final (2017)

Kishore also credited his captain Dinesh Karthik for relentlessly backing him and giving him three overs upfront with the new ball.

"Not many captains go and give three overs to a spinner during the Powerplay," he said. "I must thank Dinesh Karthik; he has been following up with me right from TNPL (Tamil Nadu Premier League) and has advised me what I have done better and what I can do better. He has given me a lot of confidence. I feel cricket is a captain's game - he takes those decisions and owns up responsibility. When somebody like Dinesh Karthik comes and tells you that you'll be the strike bowler for the team in the Powerplay, you need to deliver."

Kishore reckoned that his stint as a net bowler for Chennai Super Kings earlier this summer gave him a "reality check" and helped him deal with pressure better. After MS Dhoni smashed him all over Chepauk on the third day of the pre-season IPL camp, Kishore returned home wondering: naa enna da panren (what am I doing?). A chat with Harbhajan Singh then gave him clarity and spurred him to improve his game-awareness.

"Spending time at the CSK nets was an invaluable experience and it's something I've told most of my state cricketers," Kishore said. "I bowled quite well in the first two days of the camp and on the third day they probably knew how I would bowl and I was whacked all over Chepauk. Of course, it was Dhoni (laughs). It was like even if I change my line or length, Dhoni kept whacking me.

"Net bowling at CSK was like an internship and I was just looking for some points with which I can grow. Harbhajan Singh was there at the nets as well and I went and asked him: what will you do if Dhoni keeps whacking you all around the ground? He explained that when you get hit, you go into a [defensive] mindset and search for an escape route and panic a lot. He asked me not to panic, back myself, take a little more time for myself and then get ready to bowl. Then, if Dhoni still hits you, it's fine.

"The next couple of days I bowled to Dhoni again and I did better. In one session, I didn't give him a single six. The experience of getting hit everywhere made me more aware as a bowler."

Having grown up in Chennai, Kishore idolises R Ashwin, so much that his jersey number is 99 like Ashwin's. Kishore's Twitter handle, much like Ashwin's, includes 99.

"Coming from Chennai, I'm naturally a fan of CSK and when you see somebody like Ashwin anna, you have that admiration," Kishore said. "I could relate a lot to him because he's also a tall fingerspinner. Looking at him, I got the belief that I could also upgrade myself as a cricketer like him and do the things he does. When I made my TN debut, he was also there with me. Since he is busy playing international cricket, we haven't had enough time to exchange notes at Tamil Nadu, but that's something I'm looking forward to soon."

Kishore has been among the most consistent bowlers in the TNPL and had trialled with Mumbai Indians earlier, in addition to being a net bowler for Super Kings and Kings XI Punjab. His name has cropped up at the IPL auction in the past two years, but he didn't find any takers. With another auction looming, does that thought play on the back of his mind?

"Of course, it will be there at the back of your mind," Kishore said. "But, if you have one particular skillset, you need to be executing it in every game. "You have to move forward. I'm not the same Sai Kishore I was two years back. And in two years, I don't want to be this Sai Kishore. Whatever you do at practice, you need to replicate in the game, upgrade yourself, and balance it out."

Kishore is no stranger to balancing things, though. He's currently juggling cricket with an MBA degree and just needs to complete his practical exams to finish it off.

Outside of cricket and MBA, Kishore enjoys watching movies and taking his dog for walks. He describes himself as a "normal Madipakkam boy…just like Vijay Shankar". If Kishore extends his red-hot form from the league stages in the Syed Mushtaq Ali to the Super league, he might well be the next Madipakkam boy to break into the IPL.