Kerala Pace Spearhead Sandeep Warrier Switches Allegiance to Tamil Nadu

Sandeep Warrier’s Ranji Trophy career was just two months old when he got a chance to bowl at the Indian cricket team’s nets in Kochi before their ODI against England in 2013. The lanky 21-year old pacer from Ollur in Thrissur had grown up in Mumbai where he took baby steps in school cricket before he moved to Kerala as a 16-year old. By 20, he had earned a call-up to the Kerala Ranji side after two successful years in district cricket.

But even in his wildest imaginations, Sandeep wouldn’t have imagined a face-off with Virat Kohli during those early days would change his fortunes. In the net session, Sandeep impressed Kohli so much that the Indian vice-captain at the time recommended his name to the ‘Royal Challengers Bangalore’ management. It didn’t take long for them to give the impressive Kerala lad a contract.

Seven years since, Warrier’s career hasn’t reached the pinnacle yet, but he is in fast-track mode again with a move to Tamil Nadu ahead of the 2020 season confirmed. “I loved playing for Kerala. But there comes a time when you have to make tough choices in life,” Sandeep said of his decision as revealed by The Times of India. “And I feel that time has now come for me. Since I started training at the MRF Pace Foundation almost eight years ago, my cricketing set-up has revolved around Chennai apart from the times I played for Kerala in the domestic circuit. And last year, I got a job in Chennai (India Cements) and got married to a girl from Chennai too. So I think my future is going to be based out of this city. So my move to Tamil Nadu is purely due to personal reasons.”

The spearhead of Kerala’s pace attack, Warrier was instrumental in the state’s run to the semi-finals in the 2018-19 Ranji season. He finished as the joint 11th highest wicket-taker in the season, and Kerala’s highest, with 44 wickets in 10 games at an average of 17.54 and a strike rate of 43.

His scintillating show saw him earn a call-up to the India ‘A’ team touring the West Indies. Last year, he even travelled to New Zealand with the ‘India A’ side. All this meant that he featured in just four matches during the last Ranji season for Kerala. The state had a horrendous season with Sandeep and Sanju Samson unavailable for most parts and ended up being relegated to Elite Group C.

While Warrier’s career has received a major shot in the arm with his move to Tamil Nadu, Kerala cricket will see this as a major blow. Even as they hit the peak in two successive seasons, the underwhelming performance last year has seen them go back to square one with no clear future in sight.

The appointment of Tinu Yohannan, someone familiar with the system and players, as head coach is a move in the right direction. However, his task is cut short by the lack of a proper feeder system in place. The shutting down of district-level academies and over expenditure on newer stadiums is bizarre to say the least.

The inherent strength in the team is pace bowling but Kerala chose to play on spin-friendly wickets in Thumba last season, a decision that backfired spectacularly. Now, with Warrier leaving, the pace bowling department has received a major jolt and the pace battery appears to be devoid of a leader.

This is important primarily because the pacers complemented each other perfectly and gave Kerala a distinct edge in one department. The consistency in the bowling attack had been a major relief in the two years they progressed past the group stages in the Ranji Trophy as Warrier himself said after Kerala’s run to the semi-finals in 2018/19.

“For me, this was my best year just because I was getting enough support from the other side. Apart from my first year, we didn’t have a good bowling combination. But for the last two years, it’s me, Basil [Thampi], [MD] Nidheesh and Jalaj [Saxena] who have led the attack. And that consistency in the line-up has made the difference for me as well,” Sandeep said as revealed by ESPNCricinfo.

Last year Warrier’s absence hurt Kerala’s chances. The upcoming season will not only force the state to hunt for replacements, but also figure out where exactly their bowling strength lies. The appointment of Yohannan will, in a way, help them nurture new talent. Speculations are also rife that S Sreesanth could return to the team this season after serving out his ban.

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