Basil Thampi © BCCI
Basil Thampi © BCCI

“He’s a very, very good talent. He’s sharp, he bowls quick and is somebody who can execute yorkers very consistently, and that’s probably one of his biggest strengths. He has a good slower ball as well. He has all the ammunition required to play the T20 format and I’m sure he will do really well,” that’s what Dinesh Karthik said about Basil Thampi when he was drafted in the Indian squad for the Sri Lanka T20Is last year.

Thampi and Karthik had played together for Gujarat Lions (GL) in VIVO IPL 2017. Thampi had toe-crushed his way to stardom in that tournament. He immediately caught the eye by starting his IPL career by claiming Chris Gayle with a lethal yorker.

Raina, leading GL, had counted on Thampi at the dead end of the innings, and Thampi rose to the challenge. He went on to bag 11 wickets last season and won the Emerging Player award. His raw pace and ability to bowl the yorker at will won selectors’ attention, and he found himself playing for India A soon. A couple of months later he was picked for the national team. The India debut did not come but Thampi is being looked as a prospect.

Much before that, Thampi rose to local stardom in six-overs-a-side tennis-ball matches. It took time for Thampi to get hooked to the game. It was only at 16 when he started playing regular tennis-ball cricket. Prior to that, it was all about football. He wished to follow his father’s footsteps and get into club-level football.

Destiny had other plans. In smaller grounds, he befriended yorkers to ensure he was not hit out of the park. He had fans who would flock around past midnight to see him play. He was noticed by Vishwajeet Prasad, Director of Perumbavoor Cricket Club, Kerala, and serious cricket began. He went on to impress in Under-17 cricket and represented Kerala Under-19.

The rise has been pretty steep since. During the IPL 2018 Auction, Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) shelled out INR 95 lakhs to secure his services.

Not many bowlers have managed to floor Steven Smith, writhing in pain, hitting the master on the chest. Thampi, in his brief career, has had this distinction on his CV.

The script could have been far from what it is. Like any other ambitious young man from his state, Thampi wanted to live the Dubai dream and had focused on his graduation, deciding to let cricket take the back seat. He still wasn’t sure if bowling fast and getting the yorkers right could be a career. CM Deepak, former Kerala wicketkeeper, felt otherwise and persuaded him to stick to the sport. In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, Thampi, now 24, relives his journey.

CricketCountry (CC): You were doing well in club cricket but then you decided to head to Dubai for a different career. What stopped you?

Basil Thampi (BT): I thought I would get a degree and go to Dubai or any other foreign place. I called up my club before a crucial game and informed them about my plans and why I would not come down for training anymore. CM Gautam was the secretary of my club, Swanton, and he believed in me. He persuaded me to continue playing, at least till I finished studies. I continued for him. He sent me to Chennai, where I played for Chemplast and landed in a job. There I trained under Tinu Yohannan for a few months. I also got to train at the MRF pace foundation under Glenn McGrath.

CC: Was there any particular advice from McGrath?

BT: There was a lot of motivation. He advised me to not lose pace. The interactions were very helpful. Even the same with Rahul Dravid at India A. They told me not to compromise on pace.

Glenn McGrath heaps praises on Basil Thampi
Glenn McGrath heaps praises on Basil Thampi

CC: You have been mentored by McGrath, Yohannan and Dravid. Now you will be bowling alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar, one of the finest bowlers across formats and a master at death bowling. Have you picked up something from him yet?

BT: It’s an honour to practice alongside Bhuvneshwar Kumar. His inputs will help me improve. During our recent net session, we spoke on how to read a batsman. Field placements are very important for bowlers. Bhuvi-bhai has spoken to on how to set the right fields. You can bowl a particular delivery right but the objective is only achieved when you have the right field set. Sharing the stage with him has been very helpful and I will continue to learn.

CC: GL to SRH, any difference in the camp atmosphere?

BT: I was backed immensely at GL. It continues to be same at SRH. I am very excited to play for Hyderabad. I have a special connection with the city. Our home ground [Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, Uppal], was where I made my IPL debut. It came against SRH. From players to support staff, there are big names and everyone has been welcoming here. I am very happy at the moment.

CC: Lot of youngsters have played in IPL and gradually faded away. Not many have been given a longer rope like yours for an instance with Gujarat last year?

BT: Raina-bhaiya, without a doubt, has played a huge role in that. I wouldn’t have been here if not for him. He supported me a lot and without him I wouldn’t have won the Emerging Player. He kept on backing me irrespective of how I fared. He allowed me to bowl at best of batters at critical junctures. He played me in 12 out of the 14 matches. His belief made a lot of difference. You can fare better with confidence and nothing can be better if the team, your captain believes in you and your ability. I will always be grateful.

(Trivia: Mumbai Indians needed 31 to win from 24 balls against GL at Rajkot with Kieron Pollard and Krunal Pandya at the crease. Thampi turned around the show with a 7-run over, dismissing Pollard and a 4-run over, dismissing Hardik Pandya and Harbhajan Singh, making the equation 11 off final 6. The match ended in a tie and Mumbai won it via Super Over.)

CC: How big a blow is it to not have David Warner playing for the Sunrisers?

BT: David Warner’s absence will be a huge blow. He is a genius. I was looking forward to play alongside. Not only we at the Hyderabad camp, it’s a loss for cricket fans.

CC: What’s your goal this season?

BT: I just want to keep learning from the best in the business, improve as a bowler and most importantly, bowl SRH to wins.

CC: Finally, who is your favourite player?

BT: MS Dhoni.

***

Thampi had once famously marked that his dream is to bowl and have Dhoni keep wickets. That may not happen anytime soon, but he however has another champion gloveman — Wriddhiman Saha — who will sooner or later keep to him.

Thampi was not picked for SRH’s first match against Rajasthan Royals, which they won comfortably. They will face Mumbai Indians in their second game on Thursday.