Followers of Chirag Suri’s Instagram account will have noticed a new picture posted on Saturday by the UAE batsman. It was a selfie with none other than Indian international and World Cup winner, Suresh Raina.
And it’s likely that won’t be the last photo he’ll be taking with an elite cricketer considering he’ll be mixing with the big boys when the 10th edition of the Indian Premier League (IPL) starts on Wednesday.
It’s been six weeks since he hit the IPL jackpot and the news still hasn’t sunk in for the 22-year-old. You can’t blame him either. Facing the likes of Chris Gayle, Ben Stokes and MS Dhoni over the next month is a completely different ball-game compared to playing against UAE domestic and Associate cricketers.
Add in the glitz and glamour, the thousands of screaming and passionate fans and the millions of television viewers from around the globe, as well as having Lions captain Raina, Brendon McCullum, Jason Roy and World T20 winner Dwayne Bravo as his team-mates, then it’s no wonder he is looking forward to it.
Ever since he was bought by Gujarat Lions at February’s auction, being the first UAE cricketer to play in the T20 league, Delhi-born Suri has become a star in his own right, dealing with interview requests from UAE and Indian media outlets.
“Life’s obviously changed a lot but I haven’t taken it into my head as such as it’s very important that you don’t let these things control you,” said Suri, who was raised in Dubai. “Honestly I’m still pinching myself. I think when I actually reach the ground and when my flight lands or when I go to the stadiums, then I’ll be ‘hold on, I’m with Suresh Raina and all these big guys’.
“When you go into a tournament like this, it’s easy to get fazed but it’s important for me not to have a brain freeze wherever I am, whether it’s in training or matches.”
Whatever spotlight he’s had, it’s just an indicator of what to expect in the most extravagant T20 tournament, which is the elite when it comes to the shortest format.
It will not be the first time that Suri will be on television in the IPL. He was once briefly caught on camera in the stands during one match when he was much younger.
He was thrilled with that cameo appearance and now has another chance; this time to make a name for himself.
“When my face was shown on the screens (in the stands) I was just jumping around. It was a surreal moment, but playing the IPL will be a completely different experience,” he said. “I remember watching the first auction in 2008 and MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar were there,” recalled Suri. “It’s one of the best competitions and I’m thrilled to be part of it right now, as it’s every boy’s dream to play in big T20 competitions.”
With a long campaign ahead where Gujarat could play up to 17 matches if they reach the final on May 21, Suri hasn’t left anything to chance, putting in extra time in the gym as well as in the field. He finds himself in the “best condition he’s even been”.
The Heriot-Watt University student has also picked the brains of Owais Shah, who is fully aware of what it’s like to play in the IPL.The former UAE interim head coach played in four seasons of the competition and passed on his knowledge on how to cope with the mental aspects of the game.
“He told me it’s very easy to drift away from your natural game because when you watch all these other guys hit big boundaries, it’s like ‘okay, why am I not hitting the big sixes?’” he said. “He re-emphasised that I have got to do what I do best. It’s important to stick to my game and basics.”
— Chirag Suri (@suri_chirag) March 18, 2017
Coach Brad Hodge has a difficult task of picking his best 11 from a squad that boasts world-class players and upcoming stars. As the new kid on the block, Suri is fully aware he has his work cut out of making the team.
His cause can be helped that he has added to his game by bowling leg-spin. If he doesn’t feature in his team’s opener against Kolkata Knight Riders on Friday, there will still be plenty of chances to prove his worth.
And when he does, he’s adamant he’ll give nothing but the best. “Whenever I do get the opportunity, I’ll take it,” he said.
“I’ve been practising my boundaries a lot and as long as it goes over or hits the ropes, I’ll be happy. I’m not going to be someone who is going to hit it 100m like Gayle.”
He added: “Most importantly, I’ll come back to the UAE as a better player. If you’re surrounded with the best players, it makes you think how can you reach that top level. Whether it’s just the mindset or picking up tips, it will be priceless for me and it’s something I’m really embracing.”
Unsurprisingly, he’s been inundated with ticket requests from his friends, but two people who are sure to watch him live are his parents – Bobby and Gauri.
“My mother has always been supportive and made sure I was on top of my studies when I got back from cricket,” said Suri.
“My father is definitely one of the influential figures in my life. He plays cricket and has always been there and backed me. When I turned 18, you have to make a choice whether to start working on higher studies. But he said to me, ‘whatever happens, you continue playing cricket’ and he always believed in me.
“I played a couple of times with him and it was strange playing with him but it was really enjoyable.”
Amazingly, Suri is yet to play an official game in the shortest format for the UAE. But he doesn’t believe in looking back and his IPL call-up is proof that players can make it big if they work hard. “You’re always going to have lean patches as cricketers,” he said.
“Instead of looking things in a negative way, I took it as a positive and I never doubted myself. I don’t dream a day without playing cricket and wouldn’t know what to do if I’m not playing. I love the sport and grateful to have reached this far.”