I caught up with Jason Sangha, the second youngest player to score a first-class century against England, at a cafe in suburban Sydney. He’d just returned from having led Australia to the U-19 Cricket World Cup final, the first cricketer of Indian-origin to have led the Baggy Greens in a world event at any age-group level. It was also his first outing on a major stage with television carrying the coverage around the cricket world.

As an actor myself, I have always wondered what it must feel like to be on a cricket pitch in front of a live audience with no retakes and the hopes of your country or team all resting on your young shoulders.

How does one, especially someone as young as 18, manage to shut out the cheering crowds and the knowledge that his every move is being scrutinized by millions around the world – just to focus on that “one ball”? It’s a question that’s always intrigued me, and I couldn’t think of anyone better than Jason to fill me in with how he handles the enormous challenge. As I came to learn, he does it by humming a song in his head.

“When I’m out there, I can hear my own voice in my head saying, watch the ball…watch the ball…because you can get caught up with the things around you in the stadium – that big crowd cheering, the other players, the energy…so staying in the moment is crucial!” he says.

“My job as a batsman is to play the ball, then funnily enough, once the ball has been bowled and the bowler is walking up to his mark, I often sing a song…it kinda calms my nerves. Like right now, while driving here, Go Bang by PNAU was on the radio, so if I was about to go bat now, I would be humming that!”

With acting, I’ve always realized that it’s different during a rehearsal, or watching our past footage, or fine-tuning the next take. But once the camera is rolling, it’s not always what we rehearsed. Jason and his fellow cricketers are on “action time” from the time they enter the field, and there’s not much time to think. If anything, the time for retrospection comes after the game, with no scope for any kind of editing.  

“There it is one ball at a time and you keep going, you have no time to think. But once you’re back home, you see the footage and you analyse it, and see what you did right or wrong.

“Sometimes you don’t need to replay or watch a footage. It’s also a mental process, like ‘how was I feeling when I got out’, or when I was batting…I could’ve been anxious, nervous, or too excited. So you have to put yourself in those situations and think how you’re going to react and how to deal with it during the training sessions,” Jason explains.  

“I go very specific in my training sessions. I follow the exact routine I would for a game. I make sure if there’s 20 minutes of batting time and I get out, I would take a break, go back and do it again. But yes, training and your game time are still two very different ball games!” he adds.

There is one knock of his though, that he wouldn’t mind replaying. It came last year against the touring English team in the build-up to the Ashes.

Facing a star-studded England bowling attack, the highest-quality opposition he’d ever come across in his nascent career, the right-hander cruised to a fluent ton. It was by far the best moment of his life—the only regret being that his mother, his biggest supporter and who doesn’t miss a single moment of him batting, had to fly back to Sydney before he reached three-figures.

As a young cricketer, it’s a dream to get an opportunity to play against such a big side like England. And seeing my idols like Joe Root up-close, batting, was a realisation that I could play with international players who have so much more experience.

“To score a century in that game, was a massive confidence boost! You can take so much away from the game of cricket in terms of batting, bowling and technique, but confidence would be the main one,” he says.

With acting and while playing cricket—the live crowds at the ground can often influence the way you go about your sport, or at least have an impact on your energy levels. It’s a skill that Jason insists he’s been learning after having spoken to a lot of experienced players.

“I learnt to not feed off the crowd’s energy. In the World Cup finals, I almost freaked out with the thousands of Indian fans rooting! But when I started batting, at first I almost didn’t hear anything for a second, because I was so focused on watching the ball.

“I had trained so hard to focus just on the ball and nothing else! I do have fidgety habits, each player has a different one, but with me it’s a lot to do with controlling my breathing, controlling my approach to the ball in the next step,” he says.

Jason believes, in cricket there is a ‘40-60’ ratio, in terms of technique to improvisation.

“Out there you’re creating and improvising all the time! It’s all about reaction. In a split second you have to make sure your technique is perfect, watch the ball being bowled, the revolution of the ball, then moving to the ball, and playing the right shot in that gap. So you have that split second of the game in your control, and you have to give your best shot! So it’s still quite underrated in cricket.”

“When you’re younger it’s mostly about technique, but as you get more experienced, it’s more about the mental side. If you’re just focusing on your technique you don’t end up creating so much,” he explains.

As a sportsperson representing the country, whether you’re off the field or on, you’re always in the spotlight. Cricketers, especially in Australia, have come under the scanner a lot in recent times with controversies hounding some of the biggest names Down Under. And though Jason is still a tad bit away from joining their ranks, he insists on already preparing himself to be selective in what he says and what he does even when he’s not on camera—an official one anyway.

“Yes, you can’t just speak your mind. You have to think before you speak. Especially in cricket, there’s a lot of sledging but since you know you are live on camera, you have to learn how to react and handle these situations. It’s hard but it gets better with experience.

“Precisely why I would say cricket is such a mental game..there’s so much happening around you, but you have to focus on the next ball, not worry about the 40th over or the next game, just be in the moment!”

 

By Saroni Roy