What were you doing when you were 16? Putting yourself through hard yards to clear board exams? Or waking up early in the morning to play a match against your neighbourhood rival?
While most of us can only dream of it, every year, we witness a different genre of 16-year-olds who do the hard yards. some of them lead of group of school teens and bring glory to their state at the Under-16 Vijay Merchant Trophy.
Mumbai’s Aryan Sakpal belongs to that genre of teens – who are busier on the field than on Instagram reels.
Sakpal led Mumbai to Vijay Merchant Trophy win in January 2024, beating Gujarat in Bangalore’s Alur. Sakpal didn’t only lead his side, but also scored a match-winning 127 off 355 balls in first innings as a result of which, they won by an innings and 38 runs.
In an exclusive conversation with News 18 CricketNext, soon after the Vijay Merchant Trophy final, Sakpal opened up on Rohit Sharma being his favourite player, his willingness to learn his pull shot as well as Virat Kohli-like cover drive and what the Vijay Merchant Trophy victory meant to him.
How did you feel at the point in time when you won the Vijay Merchant Trophy?
It was a very proud moment for me because I had seen this tournament being played on TV last year and before Covid-19. Mumbai had won the tournament that year too. I had a dream to play in the tournament, play in the finals so that I can appear on TV and help my team win the match. So it was a proud moment and that dream was also completed.
You scored a brilliant century in the final. What were you thinking when you were batting in the middle?
When I went in to bat, we had lost the first wicket for no run. Whenever we had lost early wickets, I scored on most of the occasions. So I thought, since a wicket has fallen this soon, the team would need me. So I was thinking to do whatever I could for the team. So I kept my mindset absolutely positive. I also had it in my mind that the bowlers need some rest and we should bat as much as possible. Because the bowlers were doing great effort throughout the tournament and hence it was important to give them some rest.
So you like to take the responsibility when the team is in a pressure situation.
Yes, it is a good feeling when you can bail the team out from a pressure situation.
Since most of you are school students, what kind of conversation happens in a dressing room in an Under-16 team? And what do you as a captain tell them?
I tell everyone the same thing. Everyone should enjoy the game as much as possible. It is very important to enjoy the game, because the stage at which we are playing, if we start taking pressure, performing well will be very difficult. It will be good for the entire team if we enjoy while playing. Everyone knows that everyone should stay together and keep the fun going so everything goes smoothly.
You guys had a party in Bangalore as well as with MCA officials in Mumbai. So tell us about the celebrations.
On the day we won the final, we went out for dinner. We enjoyed the night thoroughly. The entire team was together and talking about the games, a complete recap of the tournament. Whatever memories we had during the season, we were trying to recollecting everything sitting together. There was one dream we had at the start of the season that we want to win the All India invitational tournament and it was amazing to fulfil it.
You had denied your father to come to Alur for the final. Any specific reason for it?
Nothing specific. Dad wanted to see me on TV, so I told him, ‘This is a good opportunity to watch me on TV. It will be a proud moment for both of us’.
You have been working with Dinesh Lad who has been Rohit Sharma as well as Shardul Thakur’s coach. So how is it training under him?
Dinesh Lad Sir is very good, and whenever I need him, he is always available and always gives very good guidance. Whenever anything goes up or down, if you talk to him, it feels very good. Even when I lose patience when there is no opportunity, sir will tell me to have some patience. I act accordingly and it gives good results as well.
Does he talk about Rohit Sharma and give some guidance from his playing style?
Yes, sir talks about Rohit. He tries to guide us on how Rohit plays the pull shot, exemplifies how he used to win matches for his school team, and motivates us to do similar things.
You were not selected in the Under-16 team last year, but this year you were made the captain. So how did this transition happen?
Last year, I performed well, but others performed better than me. This was in my mind since then, If I wanted to be selected, I will have to do more, and hence, I worked harder and implemented the plans better. My performance improved and the selectors chose me. And, they also saw some leadership qualities in me, making me the captain.
You also played Mumbai’s Kanga League at a very young age. So how was your experience there?
The experience there was good. I scored a fifty in my first match itself. A batter’s patience and temperament are tested there as the wickets are not easy. It is not easy to survive there. So I got a good platform there to understand the game better.