'Quiet' Sangha targets impact after breakout season

He's led the country at an U19 World Cup and his state and Big Bash teams by age 23, but Jason Sangha says captaining his club side as a teenager was the ideal grounding for his leadership nous

Randwick-Petersham has been the formative place of many Australian, NSW and even international stars across the years both before and after the July 2001 merger and there's perhaps none who epitomise that more than Jason Sangha.

Sangha started at the club when he was 16 years old, joining esteemed alumni such as Simon Katich, Usman Khawaja, Daniel Sams, Nathan Hauritz and Ireland captain Andy Balbirnie to have all perfected their craft at the eastern Sydney grade club.

It was also where David Warner called home during his return to club cricket while serving his one-year ban following the Cape Town ball tampering incident.

It was that season playing Premier Cricket alongside Warner in 2018-19 that Sangha credits as helping him learn "the art of batting" and it was the following summer that he says prepared him for the journey he is about to embark on as a full-time captain of a professional cricket team.

Despite captaining Australia at the Under-19 World Cup in New Zealand in 2018, Sangha believes being thrust the leadership responsibilities at Randwick-Petersham as a teenager gave him his first experience of being uncomfortable, helping put him on a path to skipper both his state and Big Bash club by the time he turned 23.

Quiet and unassuming, the young right-hander prefers to lead through his actions rather than his words, but he says that 2019-20 season allowed him to grow accustomed to leading his older teammates – ones that he looked up to and admired as a junior – on a path to premiership glory.

"I'm really quiet, everyone tells me I'm really quiet," Sangha tells cricket.com.au's Unplayable Podcast ahead of the Sydney Thunder's season opener against the Melbourne Stars in Canberra on Tuesday night.

"If I get too comfortable might say a lot. But generally speaking, I'm pretty quiet so I like to think that when I go and captain it's always been more with my actions.

"(Being) given the opportunity to captain first grade when I was 19, that really kickstarted my captaincy journey.

"I first came into the team when I was 16 and then suddenly I'm captaining them four years later, that was my first experience of being a little bit scared or nervous – I looked up to these guys who I first debuted with and then I'm captaining them.

"I remember so vividly my first first grade captain when I came to Randwick, Adam Semple, he presented me my cap at Randwick and then fast-forward four years later and I'm the one that tells him 'mate, hold there, that's enough'.

"And it just felt so weird. This was a guy that I looked up to at our club for so long and now that I'm having to captain him it feels really different.

"Without that experience and that taste early, I wouldn't have been as prepared as I would have been for the last little journey."

Tuesday night's KFC BBL|12 season opener won't be the first time Sangha has led the Thunder (he filled in for three games last season when Chris Green had Covid), and he also scored a Sheffield Shield century for NSW last season as captain while Kurtis Patterson was absent.

Sangha says he thrives on that added responsibility of making sure he does lead by his actions, with established leaders at NSW – Moises Henriques and Patterson – helping him with his focus on his own performance while also leading the team.

"When you're batting, that's the trickier part, making sure you take the captain's hat off a little bit and go 'OK, I need to focus on my batting job here'," says Sangha.

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"That's something that Kurtis Patterson and Moises taught me a little bit when I've had little bits and pieces of leadership stuff (in the past).

"I've always had a lot of good role models in all the teams that I've been in from my club cricket days and going into the Blues setup now.

"You've got guys like Moises Henriques for the Sixers, Kurtis Patterson, the captain of the Blues, then it comes to the Thunder and throw in Dave Warner, who's going to be joining our squad after the New Year's Test.

"So I've always had that opportunity and those experiences to have those role models and leaders around me and I guess I've just taken little bits and pieces off everyone and try to blend them into myself."

What's even more remarkable in Sangha's rise to the top job is that he didn't even make the XI for the Thunder's first match last season as he was left on the bench for the opening three matches of BBL|11 just like he had been during the entirety of the previous two seasons.

What followed was the season he "didn't think (he) could have had" as he peeled off 445 runs at 49.44 with a strike rate of 132.04, not missing a match for the rest of the season to finished in the top five run-scorers for the tournament.

But as an example of a temperament wiser than his age would suggest, he's not getting caught up in replicating his breakthrough season, rather he is more concerned with the impact he can have on each match.

"In some respects, as a player, when you do come off a year that you think you went quite well, and it was quite successful, there's always that expectation of 'oh, can you do it again though, can you repeat it?'," he says.

"And in cricket, it's quite a statistical-based (sport), it's this many runs, it's this average, this strike rate.

"Last year, I probably didn't really have any expectations of how I was going to go.

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"I missed the first three games, Sam Whiteman unfortunately got Covid and then I came into that game and just went out and just played.

"For me, it's about making sure that when I say I would love to back my season up, probably not so much on a statistical base, but I would love to have more impact in games.

"There was a few games last year where I really felt like I let the team down in when I got out.

"I can vividly remember our last game against the Strikers at the MCG, we just took the (Power) Surge and I hit a four off the first ball and then the next ball I might have got out and I was already on 60-odd, and we only needed 40 more runs.

"In that situation I would have loved to have been 80 (not out) and got us the win."

While he admits it may seem picky, Sangha says he'll base his success this season not by how many runs he makes but by how he contributes to as many wins as he can for his team.

"However that looks statistically, I'll be able to live with that," he says.

"Sure, I would love to get 446 runs at an average of 50 rather than 49, but I'm happy to take a season that's a lot less runs and a lower average if that means ultimately we win the trophy … (and) I'm making sure that I'm contributing to wins and when the team needs me the most I'm delivering."