Jason Sangha was out of the Big Bash for over two seasons and was beginning to think he was just a red ball player, turning to one of Australia’s fallen Test stars for advice.
Sangha, who at age 16 became the youngest player ever signed by NSW when he landed a rookie deal in 2016, had not played for 1048 days for the Sydney Thunder when he finally broke back into the team last month.
The former Australian U19 World Cup captain admits being out of the Thunder side for nearly three years has been a “difficult time”, leaving him wondering if he was good enough to play domestic T20 cricket.
But the sliding door moment came in the Canberra bubble during last season’s Big Bash when his talks with skipper Usman Khawaja, who was himself out of favor internationally, forced him to question his approach to the game.
“Usman… kept jokingly saying to me, ‘mate, you’re way too intense, you’re way too intense,'” Sangha recalls to cricket.com.au.
“If I had a real conversation with him (he’d say) ‘you’ve got to really enjoy the game because you’re so young and you’re going to reach my age and realize why was i so hard on myself when i was a lot younger?‘.”
The right-hander had announced himself as a player of the future in 2017 when, in just his second first-class game, he scored his maiden century – a sensational 226-ball 133 – in a touring game against an England side that featured Alastair Cook, Joe Root and Stuart. Broad.
He made his debut for both NSW and the Thunder the following season, scoring another century in his third Sheffield Shield game and making an unbeaten 63 in his first Big Bash game.
But despite regular appearances for NSW at the Shield level over the next two years, that KFC BBL|08 campaign remained Sangha’s only appearance in the T20 format until this summer.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I digressed,” he says of those BBL|09 and BBL|10 campaigns where he didn’t play a single game.
“I wasn’t even in the X factors. I think I might have been the third batter in line.
“Your mind will no doubt wander and wonder if you are still good enough at this level or if the coaching staff think you are good enough or if the selectors think you are good enough. Yes, I was definitely guilty of that. “
“More of my chances probably came in red-ball cricket than white-ball cricket.
“I probably kind of put it on myself that I labeled myself a red ball player. I think if you keep being exposed and keep (getting) opportunities in one format, you probably feel like you can start putting the pieces together.” in terms of maybe you think you’re just a red ball player.”
Looking back, the now 22-year-old realizes that Khawaja was right – he was a “pretty intense” cricketer.
“In a way, I’m a bit of a perfectionist,” he says. “When I feel like doing something, I want to be really good at it.
“I’m learning to play the piano now. I’m not trying to be a Piano Man, but when I’m trying to do something, I try to be really good at it. My friends call me Elton, but I’m far from it right now.”
From a cricketing perspective, Sangha says, “Sometimes you have to understand that there are better players in front of you”.
“I felt like I was just playing the victim card (roughly) that I wasn’t being picked and I kind of realized, ‘Okay, I need to work hard on my game and I need to improve in a lot of areas,’” he says.
“At the end of the day (had) I still be part of a professional set-up. So I guess I (should) be a little more grateful that while I wasn’t playing games, I still get the chance to be part of to make a BBL team.
“And when and if the opportunity comes I just want to have fun, I want to relax and I really want to enjoy my cricket.
“That has given me a sense of calm and a bit of clarity, which we know every batter is what we always want (have).”
For the first time in two years, Sangha came in this season satisfied and clear about how he wanted to play. And when the opportunity finally presented itself in the fourth game of the campaign for the Thunder, he seized it, just as Khawaja did for Australia at the SCG later in the summer.
In 11 innings at KFC BBL|11, Sangha hit 384 runs to 48 with a strike rate of 130.61 to be the Thunder’s leading scorer for the tournament so far, his outstanding run including contributions of 91 no out, 56 no out and 45 to help the Thunder win six games in a row.
He was even captain for three games when regular skippers Khawaja (Test Service) and Chris Green (COVID-19 isolation) were unavailable.
After also crediting talks with his state captain Moises Henriques for turning the mentality around, Sangha says this is the first season where he’s just trying to have fun.
But he adds that it will all matter that little bit more if he can live up to his teammates at the end of the season.
“All I’m saying is it should really take full effect towards the back of the tournament, when the pressure starts to build up a little bit more,” says Sangha.
“It’s certainly been a long road, but overall I’m still very grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given.
“It was really nice to see that they are working hard to pay a little more. But it doesn’t mean anything if I can’t take care of the guys who go to the final.
“If you were to ask me 12 months ago if I’d be captaining the Thunder, I’d probably think you were kidding.
“But at the same time, a lot of hard work has gone into it…this year the opportunities I’ve been given in white ball cricket have given me a huge boost of confidence to know that I’m not just this red ball player, I’m good too do work in the cue ball.”