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'Legspinners aren't meant to be defensive' - Tanveer Sangha is taking the right turns

Tanveer Sangha is mobbed by his team-mates ICC via Getty

Trips to India have been rather infrequent for Tanveer Singh Sangha since cricket took over his life, but his lasting memory remains spending summers in his family village in Punjab, about an hour from the city of Jalandhar, playing cricket and football all day.

He'd wake up, have breakfast, and be out playing with his cousins; later, grab lunch and once again play cricket till he was too tired to continue. Life now is quite the same, except his cousins have been replaced by his Australian teammates. Across in South Africa at the 2020 Under-19 World Cup now, Sangha has become one of the team's most important cogs, leading the attack as their primary spin option - he is now the tournament's highest wicket-taker, with nine strikes at an average of 4.88 after two rounds of group-stage action.

Growing up, he mainly played volleyball and rugby league. He also played a bit of cricket, but as a fast bowler. Thankfully for the Australian cricket set-up, he wasn't quick enough, and switched to legspin when he was 13. Sangha hasn't looked back since, and within three years he was representing the country at the Under-16 level.

It was at one of those games that Sangha earned his first fan: Fawad Ahmed had come down to watch the team play Pakistan, and he couldn't help but notice Sangha's skills. Soon after, Sangha and Fawad were training together at Sydney Thunder, after the youngster - at 17 years and 346 days - became the youngest contracted player at the BBL team. Since then, the two have shared a very close bond.

"I think he's one of the greatest legspinners I have ever seen or talked to," Sangha tells ESPNcricinfo. "He's just so smart. Everything he does, he thinks it through. Talking to him, asking him for tips, he's been a great resource for me. A wonderful person to talk to, even on matters beyond cricket."

"I like to set aggressive fields, allow the batsman to make moves instead of wanting them to defend. I'm always searching to get him out instead of letting him take a single"

He describes himself as an "aggressive" bowler, and says that the BBL has been a "wonderful learning curve" for him, his own game getting better as he has observed other world-class wristspinners from close quarters. Apart from sharing the dressing room with Fawad in his years of development, Sangha also has other bowling inspirations.

"I never really watched much cricket on TV," Sangha says. "But once I did, I saw a lot of Rashid Khan, Adil Rashid, Adam Zampa and Sandeep Lamichhane. I love how they put the pressure back on the batsman, always aggressive, not let the batsman get on top of you."

It's perhaps that mindset that has earned Sangha such success at the Under-19 World Cup. Against West Indies, he wasn't afraid to give the ball a rip, his leggies earning him a four-wicket haul in Australia's first match. But against Nigeria, where he became the first player to take a five-for in this edition of the competition, Sangha's strategy was very different, bowling stump-to-stump against a team that hasn't played much quality spin.

"I like to think a lot when I bowl, looking to see how the batsman wants to play me," Sangha says. "I don't like being a defensive spinner because legspinners aren't meant to be defensive. I like to set aggressive fields, allow the batsman to make moves instead of wanting them to defend. I'm always searching to get him out instead of letting him take a single.

"When I bowl, I like to take control of the fields, because then if I bowl a bad ball, the responsibility is on me."

Sangha's father Joga Singh, who drives a taxi in Sydney, moved to Australia in search of a better life in the late 1990s. His mother Upjeet works as an accountant. His family, however, is unique in that the members are neither "mad about cricket" nor about putting "academic pressure" on the youngsters.

"My dad was a really sporty person, so he trained with me at a young age. Best mate I could've asked for. Even my mother wasn't too harsh on me. They didn't put a lot of pressure on me to study, so I could enjoy what I was doing," Sangha says. "I do have friends who wish they could have played more, those who couldn't train because of tutoring or assignments. I feel you can balance sports and school just fine. I've seen parents who have forced their kids to leave the sport.

"If you see your son play cricket and enjoy it, then he should be allowed to train and improve. But you also need to study. So my advice is to give your children the best opportunity they can get. Giving a chance is never a bad thing."

Indeed. Those little choices are now paying dividends. A full-time BBL contract and being the latest in the line of Indian-origin players who have made a mark in Australian cricket - Arjun Nair, Jason Sangha (no relation), Gurinder Sandhu and Param Uppal, for example - he is understandably chuffed.

Since Shane Warne and Stuart MacGill, Australia have been on the lookout for the next great legspinner. Mitchell Swepson first and then Lloyd Pope were expected to make a mark, but haven't quite reached there. Pope, in fact, came to the fore in a big way at the last Under-19 World Cup, when he picked up 8 for 32 in a match against England. Sangha, and Australia, would hope to be that man, the next legspinner from the country to hit the big time. So far, in South Africa, the signs have been positive.