March 24: Keshav Maharaj is spotted in Jaipur wearing Lucknow Super Giants colours as they take on the Rajasthan Royals in the latter’s opening game

March 28: Maharaj returns to the Pink City and straight into the Royals squad as the team seals their second win of the season

And in less than two weeks’ time since his arrival, South Africa’s limited-overs vice-captain goes from being a fly on the wall to making his IPL debut with the Rajasthan Royals. 

It was like he never left. More so, like he belonged here. 

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A left-arm orthodox spinner in the classical mould, Keshav Maharaj had experienced the highs and lows of international cricket after dominating the domestic circuit, but the IPL still remained an elusive, aspirational chapter in his career, until now. So when the moment of truth finally arrived, it was hard for someone like him to fight the tears of joy. 

“When I got the phone call that Rajasthan wanted me, I actually broke down on the phone. I didn't know how to contain my excitement and emotions at the time,” he said, sheepishly wiping the grin off his face as he sat down for a chat with us.

After all, an IPL stint meant that he would get a chance to revisit the land of his forefathers, a country whose people have always showered him with genuine love, even when he has played in leagues outside of India. 

“My first experience in India was in 2006 when I was in Chandigarh for a spin bowling camp. At the time you had so many mixed reviews. But I always tell people, don't go by what people tell you. Go to India and experience it. It is actually a warm welcome and it is the best hospitality that you are going to find in the world.”

His reunion with India is just one of the many things that he’s looking forward to this season. Sharing the dressing room with his spin teammates Ravichandran Ashwin and Yuzvendra Chahal, tapping into Kumar Sangakkara’s batting mindset, and picking the brains of the captain, wicketkeeper and batter Sanju Samson are some of the top items to tick off his wishlist. Of course, while continuing to be the team player eager to take his side forward in the tournament in any role whatsoever.

“I would love to tap into Sanga’s head, especially from a batting perspective. I find that helps my bowling to an extent to know how batters think. And with Ash, just see about his plans and processes and how he goes about his business and works on his game. 

Look, I am not young, I am not old. I am 34 years old but I always believe as a cricketer you never stop learning and that's what I am here to do, to pick each and every one's brain and use the little bits of information that I can do to aid my own game.”

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For someone who has played over 100 international matches for his country, picked 230+ wickets and scored 1400 runs across formats, his candour is admirable. 

There’s an air of calm that he carries into the room, almost zen-like. A constant smile on his face, a relaxed yet passionate demeanour. It also comes from his belief in spiritual powers. He’s someone who likes “asking a lot of questions” in his own words, and has a quick learning attitude towards everything on and off the field. It’s that attitude and a lot of long hard yards behind the scenes that turned him from a young, aspiring fast bowler to a master of spin bowling.

“Actually, it’s a funny story. I got upset at training one day when the coach decided that I should bowl spin. I was a fast bowler before that but I still tried spin and it worked! I have never looked back since that day”, he exclaims.

Fast forward to this day, he’s added the IPL feather to his cap, and is already mingling with his teammates well enough to be planning a batter’s downfall. 

In the match against Gujarat Titans, Yuzi Chahal came back for his second spell against an in-form Shubman Gill. A couple of deliveries into the over, Maharaj and Chahal were seen having a quick discussion. The next ball, Yuzi bowls a full and wide delivery outside off, Gill fails to connect, Sanju collects the ball and dislodges the bails in no time. Maharaj runs in as Chahal celebrates the wicket, almost as if the two conspired to plot the batter’s undoing. Credit to Yuzi for the wicket, credit to Maharaj for the thundering support!

No wonder then, that Keshav’s South African teammate and a former Royal was thrilled to bits upon hearing about his signing with the franchise, knowing he would fit like a fish to water.

“I know if there is one person in cricket who is always chuffed if I do well or get an opportunity, it is David Miller. He said it is an amazing family over here and I must enjoy the opportunity.” 

“The first thing that comes to mind when I see Rajasthan Royals is family. Seeing the characters brought in from the coaching and management side tells you a lot about the professionalism that the Royals have and the forward-thinking towards developing the youth, and obviously still nurturing the senior players within the squad.”

Quite the family man himself, Maharaj is now approaching another big milestone on the personal front. With just a few weeks away from becoming a new father, his excitement is palpable. 

“I am very excited yet nervous at the same time. I think when you are in your 20s or early 30s you are kind of selfish with your time. Now you realise that you have got someone to share with. I want to make sure that I leave no stone unturned as a father, from my love, support and care point of view. Yes, it's a bit difficult spending so many days away from home, but hopefully, she can travel and I can give the experience of what my life was like prior to her being born and hopefully she can have everlasting memories that we can create together as a family.”

When he’s not cooking batters on the field, you’ll find him taking comfort in cooking some of his favourite dishes with a twist of Indian spices. Butter paneer, aloo tikki chaat, the list goes on. On other days, there’s an adrenaline junkie waiting to unleash his adventurous side in fast cars and bungee-jumping.