INTERVIEW: Suri delighted to be rubbing shoulders with IPL stars

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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.”

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.”

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IPL team guide: Rising Pune Supergiant

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Who do you think will win IPL 2017? Which batsman will win the Orange Cap and which bowler will take home the Purple Cap?

Join the debate by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Participating in the IPL for the first time, a lot was expected from Rising Pune Supergiant [RPS]. After all, they had a captain in MS Dhoni who had reached the semi-finals every single time in the competition's history.
But it wasn't to be for the Pune-based franchise as they could only manage a seventh place finish after registering just five wins from 14 matches during the campaign.



Ajinkya Rahane had a solid season with the bat, scoring 480 runs at an average of 43.63 which included six half-centuries.

Adam Zampa was easily Pune's most impressive bowler in 2016, picking up 12 wickets in just five matches, including a career-best 6-19 against SunRisers Hyderabad.

WHAT IS NEW THIS YEAR?

Pune have a new captain, with Australia skipper Steve Smith replacing Dhoni at the helm and it'll be interesting to see how the Pune players adapt to Smith's leadership.

After a poor season last year, Supergiant have as many as 12 new faces in their squad - which includes Mayank Agarwal and Shardul Thakur whom they acquired from other franchises outside the auction.

At the auction, they bought a total of nine players, including Ben Stokes for a whopping INR 14.5 cr and they will be hopeful that the English all-rounder can help turn their fortunes around.

An injury to Mitchell Marsh also saw them get in South Africa leg-spinner Imran Tahir, who is currently ranked as the number one bowler in T20Is and ODIs in the world. Quite a handy replacement.



HOW WILL THEY DO?

In the recent Test between India and Australia in Pune, we saw a pitch that heavily favoured the spinners and although it's unlikely, a similar pitch would be good for the franchise as they have Tahir and Zampa in their ranks. Ravichandran Ashwin, though, will be a big miss.

Pune have a lot of experience in the batting department, with the likes of Dhoni, Smith, Rahane, Faf du Plessis, and Stokes, and their progress will be very dependent on their performances.

Still, when you compare this squad with some of the other squads in the league, it wouldn't go down as one of the strongest and so it won't be surprising if they fail to make the playoffs again.

SQUAD LIST

Captain: Steve Smith (overseas)

Batsmen: Ajinkya Rahane, Faf du Plessis (overseas), Baba Aparajith, Usman Khawaja (overseas), Mayank Agarwal, Milind Tandon, Rahul Tripathi, Manoj Tiwary.

All-rounders: Rajat Bhatia, Ben Stokes (overseas), Saurabh Kumar, Dan Christian (overseas).

Wicket-keepers: MS Dhoni, Ankush Bains.

Bowlers: Ashok Dinda, Ankit Sharma, Ishwar Pandey, Adam Zampa (overseas), Jaskaran Singh, Deepak Chahar, Jaydev Unadkat, Rahul Chahar, Lockie Ferguson (overseas), Shardul Thakur, Imran Tahir (overseas).


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IPL team guide: Mumbai Indians

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Who do you think will win IPL 2017? Which batsman will win the Orange Cap and which bowler will take home the Purple Cap?

Join the debate by commenting below, using #360fans on Twitter or getting in touch via Facebook.

WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?

Mumbai Indians, by their usual high standards, failed to qualify for the playoffs last season for the first time since 2009.
Coming into the season as defending champions, the Mumbai-based franchise were considered as one of the favourites for the title once again but ended up finishing fifth in the league stage with 14 points [seven wins and seven losses].



Captain Rohit Sharma was the most impressive batsman for Mumbai last season, scoring 489 runs at an average of 44.45 and a strike-rate of 132.88.

In the bowling department, it was New Zealand pacer Mitchell McClenaghan who shone brightest, picking up 17 wickets at an average of 25.64 and an economy rate of 8.17.

On the other hand, there was also all-rounder Krunal Pandya who was relatively unknown at the start of the 2016 season, but thrilled fans with his batting - notching up 237 runs at a strike-rate of 191.12. He also accounted for six wickets with the ball in hand.

WHAT IS NEW THIS YEAR?

In the auction which was held in February, Mumbai bought as many as seven players to bolster what was almost a very strong squad.

The big signing was that of former Australian pacer Mitchell Johnson, who was an integral part of the Mumbai team that won the IPL in 2013. With Johnson in the squad, the depth in the fast bowling department is probably the best in the league.

They ended up spending big money on spinners Karn Sharma and K Gowtham, who will add to the squad's already rich spin bowling resources. Both players are also handy with the bat.

Hard-hitting batsman Saurabh Tiwary returns to the Indians, where he made a name for himself during the 2010 season.

Other new players include Sri Lankan all-rounder Asela Gunaratne, West Indian wicket-keeper Nicholas Pooran, and left-arm Indian pacer Kulwant Khejroliya.



HOW WILL THEY DO?

Rohit Sharma and co. will be delighted to have Lasith Malinga back. The Sri Lankan bowler has been a vital cog of the team for a number of years and was a big miss for them last season.

The depth in the batting department looks a little light, but the squad is stocked with a lot of good all-rounders and bowlers which is a good thing when it comes to T20 cricket.

The Mumbai Indians will enter the 2017 edition of the IPL as one of the favourites and for them, reaching the playoffs will be the bare minimum.

SQUAD LIST

Captain: Rohit Sharma

Batsmen: Ambati Rayudu, Lendl Simmons (overseas), Siddesh Lad, Nitish Rana, Saurabh Tiwary.

All-rounders: Kieron Pollard (overseas), Hardik Pandya, Shreyas Gopal, J Suchith, Krunal Pandya, Deepak Punia, K Gowtham, Asela Gunaratne (overseas).

Wicket-keepers: Parthiv Patel, Jos Buttler (overseas), Jitesh Sharma, Nicholas Pooran (overseas).

Bowlers: Lasith Malinga (overseas), Harbhajan Singh, Jasprit Bumrah, R Vinay Kumar, Mitchell McClenaghan (overseas), Tim Southee (overseas), Mitchell Johnson (overseas), Karn Sharma, Kulwant Khejroliya.


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