“He’s the best since Ponting.”
That was former Aussie Test spinner Kerry O’Keeffe’s opinion after young gun Jason Sangha peeled off 117 against Tasmania in November 2018, his first Sheffield Shield ton.
Sangha was 19 at the time, flanked by another rising NSW star in Jack Edwards, and had already been making waves.
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Only a year earlier the Newcastle junior joined illustrious company when he belted his maiden First Class century against an English touring side preparing for the 2017-18 Ashes.
At 18 years and 71 days old, Sangha became the second youngest player ever to compile a First Class ton against England – second to only Sachin Tendulkar who achieved the feat at 17-years and 107 days.
England’s attack included Stuart Broad, Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and Craig Overton that day and it was just the beginning for a player regarded as one of the best young prospects in the nation.
But with such lofty praise comes even loftier expectations.
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Those early highs have been met with some frustrating lows.
Sangha has been a solid performer, 1493 First Class runs at an average of 28.16, but without making the leap many had hoped he would.
When asked how he has developed since his maiden ton for NSW, Sangha couldn’t believe how long ago he raised his bat and helmet on that fateful day at the SCG.
“Probably a few more grey hairs, wow it feels like so long ago since that happened,” Sangha told foxsports.com.au
“But I guess my maturity (has developed), not maturity in a cricket point of view, just maturity in getting a bit older.
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“Speaking to Jack (Edwards) about this as well, over time you start to figure your game out a bit more and you aren’t as raw.
“I have matured a bit more, going through games I’d be super high and if I had a bad day I’d be down kicking stones, but now I am a bit more level-headed.
“It does take time, and with that comes understanding cricket is a tough game, and professional sport is tough so understanding you are going to have bad days, but you just have to keep riding the wave.”
“Just keep trusting the process, I know it’s a bit cliche, just know that an opportunity is going to come.”
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Intriguingly despite being a player with a classic technique and temperament for the game’s longer format, it was in the BBL in which he found his confidence.
Sangha initially played 12 games during BBL08 for the Thunder and scored 178 runs at an average of 22.25. It saw him fall down the pecking order as a T20 cricketer.
By his own admission, the compact batsmen was ready to give the shortest format of the game away after being left in the dark for almost three years, until he grabbed an opportunity with both hands.
Slotting in as a Covid replacement, Sangha peeled off scores of 39, 47, 56* and 91 in successive games as he went on to score a staggering 445 runs in BBL11.
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He even held the highest average of the competition’s top ten batters, sitting at a staggering 49.44.
“I was almost a little bit forgotten really, I hadn’t played for two years, and I guess in a way there was no fear of failure,” Sangha said.
“I sort of just went out to play and I really had nothing to lose, at that stage I thought maybe the T20 format might not have been for me.
“I came in as a Covid replacement that game and I kind of just went out there and almost didn’t really care, I just wanted to go and have some fun.
“That sort of mentality I carried through the whole BBL season and after a decent season for myself, the expectations and the pressure is back on to try and average 50 again.
“From a team point of view, to try and win a trophy.”
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Sangha believes he was able to take the “fear of failure” out of his game when he was handed his chance at BBL redemption – and it sure paid off.
“I really almost didn’t care, I just went into an attitude of I am just going to play cricket, and however I go that is however I go,” Sangha said.
“It is amazing when you completely take the fear of failure out of the question and just play on pure instinct.
“The more external noise you have in your head, everyone says cricket is a mental game, and I think that is a big part of it.
“Absolutely there is times where I felt like there was a point to prove, but I am in a place now where I am just really enjoying my cricket.
“Whether that is for NSW, the Thunder or for Randwick-Petersham, I am just having some fun and it is hard not to with the group we have.”
Following his breakout BBL campaign, Sangha took that confidence into the remainder of last year’s Shield season.
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Batting at No.4, Sangha scored a solid 75 from 178 balls in a win against Tasmania to go with an 86 in a losing side against the eventual winners Western Australian.
Building from those starts, Sangha scored an impressive 142 from 235 balls against Sputh Australia before backing it up with 62 in the second innings.
Sangha, who was handed a NSW rookie contract at only 16 and is now vice-captain, led his state’s runs total in the longest form, scoring 504 runs at an average of 38.76 — 167 more than his nearest statesman, Daniel Hughes, who tallied 337 runs.
If anyone knows how to deliver with the weight of expectation it is Sangha, and he has a message for the next generation preparing to emerge into the limelight.
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“For me, every young talent will know you just have to keep riding the wave,” Sangha said.
“There are going to be times where you score a hundred and everyone wants you to be in the Test team and there are going to be times when you can’t score runs and everyone is saying ‘aren’t you supposed to be the next big thing for Australian cricket?’.
“You see it with the younger generations of guys coming through now, but you just have to keep riding the wave and finding times to have fun.
“For me it really took a little while to get over that hurdle, but now I am in a really good place, I am enjoying my cricket and there could be a lot of worse things to be said.”
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