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Feature

Why CSK splurged INR 8.40 crore on Rizvi, the right-handed Raina

Twenty-year old Uttar Pradesh batter is known for his attacking play against spin

Nikhil Sharma
20-Dec-2023
Twenty-year-old Sameer Rizvi's house in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh was surrounded by all kinds of people on Wednesday, a day after he had been bought by Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2024 auction for INR 8.4 crore (US$ 1 million approx.). There were media reporters, the local minister, and people from neighbouring houses all wanting a piece of him.
Rizvi, who has played just 24 games for the senior UP side so far, could hardly make sense of how the auction had unfolded for him, and that a top side like CSK won a bidding war to snap him up.
"All the hard work I've been putting in for all these years has paid off about 50%," Rizvi tells ESPNcricinfo at his house. "I barely slept last night. I couldn't even watch my bidding happen because a few players went unsold before me so I was nervous. Even while going to sleep I kept thinking about how I'm going to prepare for the IPL, will I do well, but I was also excited.
"Even I kept wondering how did I get so much money, and why did CSK bid for me. Even now I've not been able to make much sense of that amount. I will leave it to my family to decide what to do with that much money. This is a gift from God because not everyone gets to play for CSK. I'm so happy I'm going to be a part of a champion team."
Rizvi, a destructive middle-order batter, is popularly called the right-handed Suresh Raina, a moniker quickly catching on social media. He started playing cricket in 2011 at the Gandhibagh Academy in Meerut where his maternal uncle Tanqib Akhtar coached him. The same year UP played against Saurashtra in a Ranji Trophy match in Meerut, in which Raina captained the home side. Raina even watched a five-year-old Rizvi and was so impressed with his fielding display that he gifted him his sunglasses.
"People compare me with Raina because of the way I play," Rizvi says. "If people call me a right-handed Raina then I'll aim to do what he did for CSK. Even I love fielding like him. I'll give it my everything."
CSK might be known, or trolled, as the 'Dad's Army', but they have won a record five titles by investing in young players over the years and reinventing the older ones. In an age where a lot of franchises rely on scouts to unearth unknown talent, Tanqib thinks Raina himself might have played a role in CSK buying Rizvi. There were headlines already being written about Rizvi even before the auction when he smashed the most sixes for his team, Kanpur Superstars, in the UP T20 League and also scored two centuries to finish with 455 runs in the tournament.
"CSK must have seen a lot of things in him before buying him, including his skill," Tanqib says. "I can't be sure but there's a chance that Raina might have suggested his name to CSK. Raina had come here to watch one of the UP T20 League games and he had given Sameer the orange cap in that game."
Rizvi had also represented India at Under-19 level and made his Ranji debut at the age of 16 in 2020 but he didn't get many games. He has already been through some tough phases both on and off the field, having been dropped from the senior side early, and then becoming the main breadwinner at home after his father was diagnosed with a brain haemorrhage three years ago.
"Every player goes through phases of not being in the team or not being able to score runs and that's part of it," he says. "I couldn't make the most of the chances I got in the senior side and I gave two trials for Mumbai Indians earlier but didn't make the cut. This time I was called by all 10 franchises for trials but I made it to only three - Punjab Kings, RCB and Rajasthan Royals - because of my Under-23 games.
"Rajiv Shukla sir (former UP cricket association director and now BCCI vice-president) has supported me a lot. He sent me for the junior games when I wasn't part of the senior side and made me the captain. I could play my natural game then because I got a long run, and then I started getting more senior games and played the T20 league too.
"I took it as a positive when I couldn't play the Under-19 World Cup in 2022. Even Dhoni bhai has said that it's not like if you don't play Under-19, you can't play for India or in the IPL."
Rizvi initially used to open till the Under-16 level but one of the coaches at that time saw his natural game against spin and moved him to the middle order, which has worked wonders for him. The Chepauk pitch in Chennai is usually on the slower side and Rizvi could play a role for CSK in the middle order.
"I know how the Chennai wicket plays and I'm going to prepare accordingly. There are all kinds of wickets where I train here and I'll practice on all kinds of surfaces because seven of the 14 league games are on away grounds.
"I'm not going to change my natural game. It's fine if things don't work out later but I'm not going to change my game otherwise I won't be able to perform well."
Rizvi has already sought advice from his senior UP team-mate Rinku Singh, who has also made a name for himself as a destructive middle-order batter and made his India debut recently.
"I spoke to Rinku bhai and he asked me to enjoy this time. I've learnt a lot about fielding from him and I ask him a lot of questions, like about a player's mindset. I have batted many times with him and he always used to say, 'don't be nervous, you will find a way to score runs'. In many matches we've batted together and I remained unbeaten. He has been a big help."
Throwing a million dollars at a 20-year-old is nothing new for the IPL but it could be life-changing for a young man with a humble background from UP.
"My main advice to him will be to remain grounded and not change because of all the money he's going to earn," Tanqib says. "The IPL is the first step and he will excel there no matter where he gets to bat. He has matured now and bats accordingly to the match situation, which he didn't do earlier."
This story was first published on the Hindi edition of ESPNcricinfo. For more Hindi cricket coverage, click here

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