Under Dhoni’s guidance, Rizvi puts focus on performance not price tag

After Rashid Khan had Shivam Dube holing out for 51 off 23 balls, with just ten balls left in Chennai Super Kings’ innings, on Tuesday, 33,400-odd spectators at Chepauk were expecting MS Dhoni to walk out to bat for the first time this season. The cameras also kept panning to the OG finisher, but instead, CSK unleashed their new finisher, Sameer Rizvi, on Rashid.

The 20-year-old viciously slog-swept his first ball in the IPL, off arguably the best spinner in the world, for a six over square leg. Ravindra Jadeja, an outstanding finisher in his own right, Dwayne Bravo, who has also finished games for CSK in the past, and some other players and staff exchanged high-fives in the dug-out after Rizvi had announced his arrival.

Three balls later, Rizvi dared to charge at a 96kph dart from Rashid and swung so hard that he cleared long-off, despite mis-hitting it. Chepauk started warming up to the new finisher. When Rizvi tried to smash another six, off Mohit Sharma in the last over, he was caught at the long-on boundary. The damage? Fourteen off six balls with the strike rate reading 233.33 in his first IPL innings.

“When Rashid came to bowl in the 19th over, the coach [Stephen Fleming] told me if a wicket falls, you will go out to bat,” Rizvi told reporters in Chennai. “After that, it was set in my mind that it was the 19th over and it was a spinner bowling and if they are sending me at this point of the match, anyone who walks in will be expected to smash boundaries. So, in my head, only one thing was going on – I have to go out and hit it big – I was clear about that.”

Rizvi had made his IPL debut in the season-opener against Royal Challengers Bengaluru in Chennai last week. He didn’t get to bat in that game but admitted to feeling nervous in the field, in front of a packed Chepauk crowd. Facing Rashid, though, Rizvi showed no nerves.

“Before I stepped onto the ground at the team meeting, I received my debut cap,” Rizvi recalled. “And that’s when I found out I was playing the first match. I was a little nervous when I was fielding but I never got to bat. But, in the second match, I mellowed down a bit and was not feeling nervous; there was no such pressure. I think I got used to the crowd after the match, so that’s why I was not feeling much pressure.”

Rizvi had created a stir during the auction in December 2023, when he made CSK splurge INR 8.4 crore (USD 1 million approx) on him. He had first emerged on the scouts’ radar after hitting the joint most sixes for Kanpur Superstars in the local UP T20 league. Then, in the 20-overs Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, he took on Tamil Nadu’s spin trio of Varun Chakravarthy, R Sai Kishore and Washington Sundar on a sluggish pitch in Dehradun and almost single-handedly muscled UP home with an unbeaten 75 off 46 balls. Rizvi then turned up for CSK’s pre-season camp in Chennai in mid-March and impressed the management with his range-hitting and six-hitting.

“If you look at my previous matches, I have always been playing well against spinners,” Rizvi said. “Even at the nets, I have been playing well against spin. When I was a kid, my uncle [Tanqib Akhtar] was the one who made me practice batting against spin, he would bowl with tennis balls in a 30-yard circle. He would say if it went out of that 30-yard circle it would be a six. So, slowly we kept practicing over the years.”

Did the hefty IPL price tag invite pressure? “There’s no pressure. Price is never a pressure for a player, it’s just how I perform and score,” Rizvi said. “MS bhaiya (brother) has told me to focus on performance as the price tag is different for everyone. The main thing is how you perform and how you deal with pressure.”

Rizvi, though, admitted he didn’t expect such high bids from any franchise. Now he is relishing batting with Dhoni at the nets.

“It was a very nice feeling to be picked by CSK,” he said. “It was my dream to meet and play with Mahi bhaiya. And, that dream was fulfilled. Apart from that, I really did not expect to get picked by CSK or any other franchise for this amount. But I think they [CSK] showed faith in me, so I really liked that. One thing that I like most about this team is everyone backs one another, all of them are very helpful; it is amazing.

“I met Dhoni bhaiya for the first time on March 16, when I joined the team. It was just a casual ‘hi, hello!’ and then we met on the ground. On the ground, he taught me a few tips on how to handle pressure, and how to play in front of the crowd. He told me to play my natural game.”

Rizvi also batted ahead of Dhoni – and Jadeja – in his second IPL game and made a statement. It has been a season of change at CSK and so far, it has been smooth.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo