INTERVIEW: Chirag Suri's sky-high IPL ambition

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UAE batsman Chirag Suri has declared it would be a “dream come true” if he can help his Gujarat Lions team win this season’s Indian Premier League (IPL).

Six weeks since he became the first Emirates cricketer to be snapped up in the competition’s auction following its 2008 inception, the 22-year-old finally joined his new team-mates, including India international Suresh Raina, at their training camp over the weekend.

It didn’t take long for him to post a photo on his Instagram account with his new colleagues before sending out a message to the Lions’ fans on their official Facebook page last night, saying he’s “excited” for the new season.

He will get a feel of what it’s like to be part of the T20 extravaganza when Gujarat host two-time champions Kolkata Knight Riders as the long road to glory begins on Friday.

Suri has insisted it would be surreal should his team lift the prestigious trophy at Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium on May 21. “That would simply be amazing,” he told Sport360°.

“It’s something that would be surreal. The teams in the competition are very good with a lot of world-class players and if we win the tournament, then it would really be a dream come true.”

Suri now follows in the footsteps of his national team-mate Mohammed Naveed, who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Darren Sammy and Ian Bell at last month’s Hong Kong T20 Blitz.

And Suri was hopeful his selection will be the start for more UAE players to showcase their skills in elite limited-overs competitions. “Absolutely,” he said.

“Eight or nine of the players who played at the Under-19 World Cup left the country because they say there is no future. But we play a very good, high quality of cricket, playing against English county teams as well as strong countries like Ireland and Afghanistan.

“There are some very good players in the Associate nations and it just needs cricketers to believe in themselves that they can make a future in the game in the UAE.”

He added: “The ICC Academy is a world-class facility and the UAE is a country where you play cricket all year-round. “We just need that one mental breakthrough that we can do it.

“That will only come with games and getting better. I think it’s just a mental block. I think the players over here are strong as a lot of Pakistan internationals play here during the course of the season and don’t get as many runs as they would back home.”

With India boasting many stunning stadiums, Suri says he is looking forward to playing in them all. “Our home in Rajkot will be very nice and it’s a massive stadium. It would also be amazing to play atthe Wankhede (Mumbai) and Eden Gardens (Kolkata),” he said.

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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.

He makes batting look so easy #day1 #GLCamp #skipper #rajkot #gettingset @sureshraina3 @thegujaratlions

A post shared by Chirag Suri (@csuri128) on

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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