Twenty-four-year-old R Sanjay Yadav was a left-arm seamer until he turned 15. Then, he was told that he didn't have enough pace, so he turned into a left-arm fingerspinner and broke into the Tamil Nadu districts' side. He then worked his way up the ladder and evolved into a power-hitting allrounder in the 20-over Tamil Nadu Premier League. After making a splash in the TNPL, Sanjay entered Tamil Nadu's T20 side in 2017, but with the state already well-stacked on the spin front, Sanjay opted to move out in search of more game time at Meghalaya.
For somebody who started his career as a left-arm seamer, Sanjay was in line to break Kedar Jadhav's record (300 off 285 balls v UP in 2012-13) to become the fastest triple-centurion in Ranji Trophy history during the ongoing round. However, Meghalaya declared on 662 for 4, with Sanjay unbeaten on 254 off 228 balls, including 23 fours and 13 sixes.
Sanjay has been on a roll with the ball as well, grabbing 9 for 52 on his Ranji debut against Nagaland and following it up with 8 for 31 against Puducherry. After cracking a double-century against Mizoram on Monday, Sanjay wheeled away with the ball for 13 overs, of which seven were maidens, and picked up a wicket.
"I wasn't aware that I was in the running for Jadhav's record. Avalo la yosikala [I didn't think too much]," Sanjay told ESPNcricinfo after the second day's play in Kolkata. "Coming into the Ranji Trophy, it was difficult at the start - sometimes you tend to get out when you go for your shots. You need to have clear ideas, but with some experience in first division [league in Tamil Nadu], I learnt to attack and not give my wicket away at the same time.
"I've got extra responsibility as an outstation player but what's important is the mindset. I've got out playing attacking shots too, but it's important to stay calm and you need to know which bowler needs to be attacked and who needs to be defended. I'm slowly learning in Ranji. Pressure is always there as a professional, but I've got more confidence with runs and wickets. I just want to perform well and win games for Meghalaya."
Sanjay had reserved his best for the 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament, where he delivered an all-round performance to topple a Mumbai side comprising Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Shardul Thakur and Dhawal Kulkarni at the Wankhede stadium. After his 0 for 32 helped limit Mumbai to 157 for 6, he watched Meghalaya slip to 17 for 2 and then 41 for 3. However, Sanjay led a remarkable turnaround with a 44-ball 55 and set up a six-wicket victory along with another guest professional in D Ravi Teja.
"Mumbai are obviously the No.1 team and beating them gives us confidence is so many situations," Sanjay said. We lost early wickets in that game, but I just wanted to play positively and not think too much about the result. After 10 overs we were in a good position, and that gave us the belief that we can beat Mumbai. We maintained that and went onto win the game."
Sanjay's clutch performance attracted the attention of Sunrisers Hyderabad, who had called him up for trials in Puducherry just days before the IPL 2020 auction last December. The match-simulation scenario given to every IPL aspirant was to hit or defend 70 runs in six overs. Sanjay claimed that he made an 18-ball 40, including four sixes, and conceded 18 runs in two overs. Sunrisers liked what they saw of him and picked him up at his base price of INR 20 lakh.
Sanjay was born in 1995 in Gorakhpur, a city along the banks of Rapti river, in Uttar Pradesh. Sanjay's father Ramsingh Yadav was a daily-wage painter and his mother, Maya Devi, a homemaker. About five years later, the Yadavs moved to Hosur, an industrial town 40 kilometres away from Bangalore, with Ramsingh seeking better work opportunities.
Sanjay and his younger brother Sonu - who is also a regular in the TNPL and is currently turning out for Tamil Nadu in the Under-23 CK Nayudu Trophy - began playing tennis-ball cricket in school, but with the family running into severe financial stress, both the brothers were willing to give up the game. Premnath, who runs the Future India Cricket Academy in Hosur, though spotted both Sanjay and Sonu and offered to train them for free in addition to taking care of all their cricket expenses.
"I used to play tennis-ball cricket in school and we used to get invitations to play tournaments in Chennai," Sanjay said. "My PT teacher saw something in me and then Premnath sir asked me to join his academy in Hosur. They knew about my financial problems and I didn't attend their camp for six months. Then they came to my school again, and I told them again kaasu illa [I don't have money]. He allowed us to practice for free and even till today the academy is helping me and Sonu.
"I always keep in touch with sir. Even yesterday, sir was telling me everyone scores hundreds these days and I need to score big hundreds to get noticed and go to the next level. Every decision me or Sonu take in life, we ask Premnath sir."
Cricket had also got Sanjay a slot at the Loyola college in Chennai and gave him greater exposure, including a TNPL gig. His all-round efforts in the T20 competition led to a maiden IPL deal with Kolkata Knight Riders in 2017. Although he didn't get a single game in that season, he said he learnt a lot by observing how the internationals go about their business.
More than two years later, Sanjay is looking forward to making his IPL debut, for Sunrisers, and staking a claim for higher honours in the Indian domestic set-up.
"Before this Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, I wanted to do well and get into the IPL. I've now go into SRH, and I want to do well there," Sanjay said. "If you perform well in IPL, life can change, you never know. Maybe I can also go to next level from Ranji also. But, it's important to keep doing well. If I don't score too many runs with the bat, I need to make up in the other area [bowling]. That's important and I have that advantage as an allrounder because there are too many left-arm spinners these days."
Sure, there might be too many frontline left-arm spinners these days, but Sanjay's journey from UP to Hyderabad via TN(PL) and Meghalaya is one of a kind.