Interview with Tamil Nadu Ranji cricketer – J Kousik, ‘the Puli’

Nestled amidst the Ghats in the western part of Tamil Nadu is the city of Coimbatore. A city that has too strong an identity for its love for engineering, entrepreneurship, and technology that sports never quite got its due. Joining the likes of Narain Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula One racer to Sriram Balaji, the player on ITF Tennis circuits are the next gen cricketers – Aushik Srinivas, N Jagadeesan and J Kousik who can alter that idea in the years to come.

Nicknamed ‘Puli’ for his ferocity on the field, J Kousik is a genuine all-rounder in making who has walked the extra mile, winning Tamil Nadu’s State Cricketer of the year award last season.

Sportwalk caught up with him in Coimbatore Race Course earlier last Sunday. Below is an excerpt from the conversation.

In conversation with J Kousik

Hailing from a family which does not have an affiliation to sports, what made you take cricket as a career? How did it begin?

It was S. Suresh Kumar, the coach in Sri Jayendra Saraswati Vidayala School who believed that I had the talent in me to take up cricket as a career and asked me to attend training sessions every evening. However, I did not attend them thinking that it would be hard for me to focus on my studies (he smiles). But, he got in contact with my father through a mutual friend and it was only after my father’s motivation that I started playing.

You started as a bowler in your school days. When did you want to become an all-rounder?

I started as a bowler because I really loved Brett Lee’s bowling action and often tried imitating him in the nets in my early days. As I played more, I understood the utility a genuine all-rounder who can bat and bowl with equal significance can bring to the team and started focusing on both aspects.

How did the move to Chennai happen and how hard was it?

After school, I thought it was important to play club cricket consistently and that was not possible if I stayed in Coimbatore. I had not stayed away from my family for longer periods at any point of time before, the early days were very hard. Later, my brother secured a job in Chennai and I moved in with him.

While I attended college to earn a degree in Computer Applications, I set a target for myself and worked towards it on the field.

What were your thoughts when you got to know that you were selected for the Ranji Trophy team?

I got informed by phone that I was selected for the following season of Ranji Trophy and the first thing I wanted to do was to call my family. However, none of them attended my call for almost an hour. And when I did tell them, everyone was delighted. To see them so happy, it was one of the happiest days of my life.

Take us through the maiden first class century which in fact you reached with a six in your very second Ranji game

In the second innings of my first match against Baroda, I got to spend a good time in the middle which gave me the much-needed confidence, to begin with. The wicket was challenging and it was uncomfortable for half an hour. I was constantly speaking with Malolan and after going through the initial phase, runs started coming with ease. I was anxious in the 90’s and fortunately, I got the right ball to hit.

Thoughts on being awarded the Bishnuram Medhi Trophy (State cricketer of the year) last season

Looking at the list of cricketers who had won the award in the earlier years, it was a big surprise to me when I was awarded in the very first season. It was something special.

How Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) and having Brett Lee as the mentor of your franchise helped you evolve as a player?

Last year’s TNPL with Ruby Kanchi Warriors was a big learning curve. I loved the experience of playing under the lights and in front of the crowds.

I was reluctant to approach Brett Lee in the early days. Once I got to speak with him, I really gelled with him and he often shared experiences and his thoughts on improving the technique, approaching situations, making real-time decisions on the field. It was a really enriching experience.

And how was the experience of working with Glenn McGrath at the MRF pace academy?

Glenn follows a different approach. He shows emphasis on how to bowl for different batsmen, pitches, and conditions.

You’ve had an average Ranji season featuring only in two games despite Tamil Nadu reaching deep into the tournament and also did not get picked for the ongoing Syed Mushtaq Ali T20. How are you approaching the situation?

I certainly could have done better in the two opportunities I got. It is disappointing and these are times that I have to believe in myself the most. This is a learning experience. I am going to work harder in the upcoming days and I have the faith that I can make my comeback.

Whom do you idolize as a cricketer?

Jacques Kallis and Andrew Flintoff. It is remarkable how Kallis contributed to his team for such a long period with both the bat and ball.

In the current Indian team, I really admire Virat Kohli. His dedication, diet control, fitness levels – unbelievable.

What is it like to be part of the Tamil Nadu team’s dressing room?

Right from day one, senior players like Dinesh Karthik and Abhinav Mukund have been very supportive and motivating. Never ever a player is treated differently because he is a youngster or the vice versa – there is a sense of belonging and brotherhood. And a share of Chennai – Coimbatore banter too. He laughs.

How much do you love Coimbatore?

Regardless of where I travel and live in, Coimbatore will always have a special place in my heart. I am also attending college (Masters in Mass communication at PSG CAS) whenever I am in town.

What’s with the nickname Puli? (which translates to Tiger with reference to his ferocity on the field)

He smiles before beginning.

I like diving when I am on the field and I always keep working on my fielding skill set. I was given the nickname during my school days and it got carried when I played for districts and so on.

Which aspect of the game are you currently working on? What is the way forward?

I am currently working on increasing my pace. Looking forward to focus better and work harder in the upcoming days and make the performances count.

As we wish J Kousik good luck and leave the café, I think it’s only fair that they nicknamed him the tiger (puli) – not for his fielding skills but for the inner spirit that continues to be his driving force.

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