ICC UNDER-19 WORLD CUP, 2018
Sangha became the youngest cricketer since Tendulkar to score a first-class hundred against England. © Getty
As a kid in his family apartment in Coogee, in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, Jason Sangha would hold his bat in his right hand, throw a rubber ball against the gyprock wall with his left hand, then quickly place the left hand back on the handle and try hitting the ball off the rebound. Sangha would do this for two or three hours a day and loved every minute of it.
It is a routine Sangha still likes to repeat, especially when he is bored or the weather prevents him from practising outside. One thing that has changed is the hardness of the ball and instead of a small living room, he now needs a double garage.
“It was small apartment, but I just wanted to smash everything and I ended up breaking glass and the lights quite frequently. The TV used to be in the cover region and since driving was my strong point, I would try my best to try and avoid it, but I’m sure I ended it cracking it once.” Sangha told Cricbuzz.
The drills might still be part of his preparation, but Sangha is a no longer a kid. The muscles are starting to bulge through his Cricket Australia polo shirt. He stands at over six feet tall and there is definitely the Punjabi physical presence in him.
Sangha is from an Indian background. His dad, Kuldip, left behind a promising athletics career in Punjab to start a restaurant in Coogee before opening one in Newcastle, 100km north of Sydney. His mother, Sylvia, is the fourth generation Indian that grew up on the north coast of New South Wales.
It was no surprise then that Sangha grew up watching India against Australia matches on television. He recalls being the biggest kid in his junior cricket days and trying to mimic Adam Gilchrist with the bat and Zaheer Khan with the ball.
“It was funny I was asked at a carnival what I did and I said – I open the batting, I open the bowling and I’m a wicket-keeper and the coach just said you can’t be doing all three at a time?” he says with a smile.
At the end, it was his sub-continental wrist work and all the drives he had practiced as a child in his apartment in Coogee that persuaded Sangha to concentrate on his batting.
“It all changed when I was 12 and made my rep team in Newcastle. I realised I was enjoying the challenges as a batsmen more than a bowler.” he said.
From that moment onwards, runs start to flow and trophies started to fill the cabinets. At the age of 13, he signed up with the Wallsend Cricket Club, and even played fourth grade. The captain of the first grade side, Brett Jackson, saw potential in the youngster and became Sangha’s personal batting coach.
“Brett is the guy who has made me what I am today,” Sangha added. “We would be at the nets or bowling machine three times a week. I had him for two years, he explored all the shots and changed my perspective about batting.”
“I used to have really lazy feet and he used to just throw like 100 balls at me, then I would have to run down the wicket after few of balls and then do it again. I used to be knackered after each session.”
“There were days I would get really angry because he would throw the ball from a length and I was still a kid, so the fear was there, but I’m so glad he pushed me like he did back then,” recollected Sanga.
One of the key objectives during Sangha’s training session with Brett was that they simulated various match scenario’s and ensured the sessions were really competitive. The pair would stick to the rigorous routine right through the winter months and it allowed Sangha to stay in touch with his batting during the off-season.
Until the age of 15, Sangha played in first grade in Newcastle and managed to score his first hundred in 2015, against grown men. Soon after, he would be picked as part of the New South Wales U15 team. Since then there has been no looking back, as he progressed rapidly through the Cricket Australia pathway systems and was picked as the captain of the Under 19 team for the World Cup in New Zealand.
Last month, he created headlines by becoming the youngest batter, since Sachin Tendulkar, to score a hundred against England in first class cricket. Asked about the confidence he has gained from such innings, Sangha allowed a glimpse into his mature mindset.
“To be fair, I found it a bit challenging going back to U19s cricket. Only because I put so much pressure on myself knowing that, I’ve faced Broad, Anderson and Woakes – I should be able to dominate under age carnivals” he said.
“It took be a bit of time to learn, it took me a while to get myself down to that level mentally. I’ve been doing work on that with a bit of sports psychology and it is now solely about the ball rather than the bowler’s name.”
Sangha’s is, not surprisingly, one of the players to watch out for at the Under 19 World Cup starting on Saturday. Ironically, his first mission will be against India.
“It might help being able to understand Hindi. I might be able to understand a tactic or a strategy in that first game.” he signed off with a laugh.
Whether he does manage to pick up a tactic from the Indian team or not, Sangha, buoyed by all the hours he put in in his apartment when he was young, is bound to make an impact in New Zealand.