Despite being a sportsperson, Joga Sangha never had any interest in cricket. He says he was one of the few in the Indian diaspora who never watched India play at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). But he started following the sport once his son, whom he wanted to become a volleyball player, won the player of the tournament in an U-12 event.
Tanveer Sangha, a 21-year-old leg-spinner, has been named in Australia’s extended 18-player squad ahead of the ODI World Cup to be held in India. If he gets to play against South Africa on the upcoming tour, he will become only the second Indian-origin cricketer after Gurinder Sandhu to play for Australia.
“I wanted him to play volleyball. He was pretty good at it. But then he was good in so many sports. He is a brilliant athlete. He was equally good in soccer, rugby, cricket, kabaddi and volleyball. I wanted him to play volleyball because that’s a sport I am very fond of. I used to play it in Jalandhar and then in Australia as well, but cricket won the race,” Joga Sangha tells The Indian Express from Sydney.
Tanveer Sangha took cricket seriously after winning a player of the match trophy in the New South Wales U-12 tournament. (PHOTOS: Special arrangement, Instagram/ Tanveer Sangha)
Joga, who hails from Rahimpur village in Jalandhar district, migrated to Australia in 1997 on a student visa.
“I was enrolled at Chambers School of Business in Sydney. After a year or so, I dropped out of college. There were plenty of reasons. It was getting difficult to pay rent, fees and other things. I used to drive a taxi on the weekends. It was getting tough with every passing day,” he recalls.
To make ends meet, Joga also did several other jobs, and also faced racism when he first moved to Australia, but Tanveer never experienced anything like that.
“Yes, I drove a taxi and for a few months, I used to drive a truck also. But driving a taxi is not a crime. I don’t know why people have stereotyped it. This is a job. When Tanveer started showing interest in cricket, I needed a flexible job. I used to take him to training, then from there to school. I used to pick him from school and drop him home. Driving a taxi as a parent was the most feasible job for me. I am not ashamed of my profession. It made my life easy and helped Tanveer chase his dream,” says Joga, who also operates a small business of aluminium doors and windows in Sydney.
“Yes, racism is also there; you can’t say no. But there is transparency here. If you have talent, you will be picked. You can’t blatantly blame racism,” he adds.
On the radar
Eyebrows have been raised as Tanveer has not played any competitive cricket in almost 12 months. But Joga is not surprised by his son’s selection.
“People will say many things. But selectors have picked him because they have seen something special in him. I never approached anyone. I am just a middle-class guy. In 2019, a year before the U-19 World Cup, he was told that he would be playing the tournament in South Africa. In 2021, he was picked in the Australian squad for the T20 tour of New Zealand. Australian selectors have been keeping a tab on him for the past two years. Ricky Ponting has praised him on air during the Big Bash League,” the proud father says.
George Bailey, Australia’s chief selector, has said that Sangha has been on the radar for some time now.
“His Big Bash form when he’s been fit and playing has been excellent so he’s one that we’re really impressed with (his) character, the way he prepares and thinks about the game. The common comment around Tanveer is that he’s very mature on the field and a great thinker about how he goes about it,” Bailey was quoted as saying by cricket.com.au.
“He had an unfortunate injury last year, which meant that he lost a bit of game time, but the age he is at and the skillset he has, I don’t think that’s going to set him back much. It’s great that he’s back fit and available to play, and looking forward to him getting some opportunities on this tour as well.”
The breakout season with Thunders helped Sangha get picked for the Australia T20 tour in New Zealand in 2021. (PHOTOS: Instagram/Tanveer Sangha; Cricket Australia)
After the U-19 World Cup in 2020, Tanveer emerged as a breakout star in the BBL in 2021. He finished the season as the joint third-highest wicket-taker with 21 scalps at an average of 16.66.
The youngster was showered with praise by hard-hitting West Indies all-rounder Andre Russell, who called him a “big-hearted spinner.”
“I commended him and said ‘Listen, you have a big heart and I like spinners that are not afraid to bowl to big hitters.’ He was bowling into my body and mixing his pace. He’s not afraid to bowl in the Power Surge over to me… he did well, so hats off to him,” Russell, who was playing for Melbourne Stars had told reporters then.
After watching him bowl for Sydney Thunder, Ponting wanted Sangha to be fast-tracked into the senior team.
“He’s a young bloke who looks like he’s pretty confident and in control of what he’s doing, and he bowls proper good balls so he might be someone they’d look to get into the system,” Ponting had told cricket.com.au.
Tanveer was indeed fast-tracked to the senior team, but a stress injury followed by a twisted ankle forced him to be sidelined for a year. He was with the Australia A squad which toured Sri Lanka, taking seven wickets in two four-day matches, and has been touted as a potential long-term replacement for Nathan Lyon when the legendary off-spinner eventually retires.
Then he had a brief stint as a replacement in The Hundred for Birmingham Phoenix. He also travelled to India as part of the group that attended the MRF Academy in Chennai. The other members of that tour, Todd Murphy and Matthew Kuhnemann, went on to make their Test debuts in the Border-Gavaskar Test series.
“It was frustrating. After recovering from the stress fracture, he twisted his ankle. He has missed almost an entire season,” Joga says.
Tanveer’s father, who has played kabaddi, wrestling and volleyball in his university days, told his son that an athlete can never escape injury.
“I know in professional sport there will be injuries. He was 19 when he suffered a stress fracture. It was a growing age. His bowling action is also very unique. He twists a lot in his bowling stride. The other reason is that he kept on playing after the U-19 World Cup. He made his T20 debut for Thunder the same year, was playing grade cricket in New South Wales. Then he made his first-class debut. Whatever little I understand, it is related to workload,” says Joga.
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The 21-year-old has spent the past month in the US as part of the Washington Freedom squad in the inaugural Major League Cricket. He replaced Sri Lankan leg-spinner Wanindu Hasaranga but did not get to play any matches.
Growing up, Sangha was hugely influenced by Indian leg-spinner Yuzvendra Chahal, and it is his dream to bowl in tandem with the Indian leggie.
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“For that, he will have to do well for Australia. If he performs, I can’t see why he won’t be playing in the IPL, even in the same team as his idol Chahal,” says Joga.
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