"I really wanted to play cricket when I made it to the Under-16s Australian squad. That was probably my first major milestone." - Jason Sangha. © AFP

“I really wanted to play cricket when I made it to the Under-16s Australian squad. That was probably my first major milestone.” – Jason Sangha. © AFP

Jason Sangha is obsessed with cricket. As he waits for the nets to be set up for Australia to train ahead of their opening Under-19 World Cup clash against India, Sangha shadow-practises Steven Smith’s stance and trigger movement.

By his own admission, he “loves talking cricket all day.” He even practices imaginary cover drives while walking on streets.

Like many Australian kids, Sangha took keen interest in multiple sports, but it’s this craze for cricket that made Sangha’s career choice easy. Although the decision wasn’t as difficult as teammate Will Sutherland’s case – Sutherland had a professional career in AFL lined up before he chose cricket – Sangha still had to opt between cricket, baseball and basketball.

“Being half-Indian, you always choose cricket,” jokes Sanga, who was born to Kuldip and Sylvia, who originate from India and settled in Australia in different generations.

“The best thing about Australia is that there are so many different sports that we all play. I’m one to always love playing not just cricket, but also basketball and soccer. We’re lucky to be in a country like Australia, where you can pursue a career in whichever direction you want to go. I really wanted to play cricket when I made it to the Under-16s Australian squad. That was probably my first major milestone and that’s when I thought I’ll try and pursue cricket a fair bit.”

Sangha had another major milestone when he was picked in the Australian Under-19 side for the 2016 World Cup. However, security concerns in Bangladesh meant the team had to withdraw from the tournament, leaving the players devastated.

“That year, I was selected to take part in the World Cup. For a young guy, it was a new experience,” he says. “It was the first major thing I’d accomplished in my cricket career, something I’ve cherished since. For me, it was difficult. I would’ve loved to be in Bangladesh, but I knew I had another World Cup coming up. Most of the guys were quite emotional about it, they knew how much it meant to actually not play that World Cup. From there, I had the extra desire and hunger to be a part of this World Cup.”

Now, he’s not just a part of the team for the World Cup, but is also the first Indian-origin cricketer to lead an Australian side.

“Being a captain is great, I’m extremely privileged and honoured to be able to captain this side, something I never really thought I’ll achieve, but I’m taking it all in and embracing this challenge,” he says.

As captain, Sangha not just has to worry about his game, but also focus on the bigger team goal. The plans for the tournament, he says, started way before he even got to know he would be the captain.

“It hasn’t been a six-month planning. It’s honestly been for about two-three years, knowing this batch of age-group cricketers was going to be ready for the World Cup in 2018,” he explains. “It started with the Under-15s tournament. It’s been about consistent trainings, having a squad going to the NCC up in Brisbane and train there during the winters and the season. It’s honestly been a long process. It was very hard for the selectors. When you’re eyeing a World Cup in 2018, and you’re looking at the Under-15s, in three years players change so much. There was the Under-19s (national championship in Hobart) and before that the Under-17s – those were the two main tournaments the selectors could get an eye on for who was going for this World Cup. Everyone played so well, it was a tough one for the selectors, but this is the best squad we’ve got and I’m confident we can go all the way.”

Over the previous two years, Sangha has grown stronger and taller in physique, and with his batting abilities. He bagged a Big Bash League contract with the Sydney Thunder, made his first-class debut, and also became the second youngest batsman to score a first-class century against England, which had an attack boasting of James Anderson, Stuart Broad and Chris Woakes.

Now, he is in every list of ‘players to watch out for’ ahead of the tournament, but Sangha’s eyes are on bigger goals.

“For me, I don’t feel I’m there in cricket yet,” he says. “Obviously signing with the New South Wales and the Thunder (was big), but I always think I can always get better. So I feel I still haven’t quite made it yet into where I want to be in cricket. This is obviously a massive pathway for me to showcase my skills for the future.”