Of old skills and new – Sandeep Sharma’s IPL resurgence is a victory of evolution over limitations
None of the franchises raised the paddle when Sandeep Sharma‘s name came up in the auction for IPL 2023, and one can see why. They had more exciting fast-bowling prospects in mind for their squads, and an ageing medium pace was of little value.
Sandeep was understandably disappointed (“don’t even know where it has gone wrong”). He had a more than decent IPL record at that point, having taken 114 wickets in 104 games at an economy rate of 7.77. By his own admission, he “had done well for whichever team he had played.”
Fate, however, had other plans for him. He got a break when Rajasthan Royals went searching for a replacement after their star Indian seamer Prasidh Krishna was ruled out of the tournament due to an injury. Even then, not many expected him to get a game, with Trent Boult there to take care of the new ball and several younger, taller, quicker Indian fast bowlers to support him. Yet, a month into the season and four months since the auction mishap, Sandeep has made his presence felt in more ways. He has left those who had discarded him red-faced.
From stopping an in-his-element MS Dhoni from pulling off a trademark final over heist to dismissing a rampaging Suryakumar Yadav with what might be the catch of the season, Sandeep has lit up IPL 2023. An underrated performer for a decade now, this recognition is long overdue.
So far he has picked eight wickets in seven games while going at 7.96 runs an over. IPL 2023 has been one of the fastest-scoring T20 tournaments in history, which makes his performance beyond impressive. When you factor in that he has bowled almost 30 percent of his overs at the death, it only gets better.
Over the years, Sandeep’s strength has been a sound knowledge of his own abilities and limitations. He has always been known for the big, natural inswinger to the right-hander, but he also had subtle variations and an accurate yorker to go with it.
This year, he seems to have added another string to his bow – the leg-cutting knuckleball ball with which he dismissed Rohit Sharma at Wankhede. The ball deceived Rohit, no less, completely, both for lack of pace and for the movement it generated off the surface.
All that shows that he is not the one-trick pony that many mistake him to be, and that he has the hunger to improve and evolve – qualities that are necessary to stay relevant in the modern T20 game.
Sandeep burst onto the scene in 2013 when Kings XI Punjab had picked the then 19-year-old from Patiala, fresh off a victorious Under-19 World Cup campaign in 2012. He had in fact, played in the 2010 Under-19 World Cup as well, and had a major hand in India’s victory in the 2012 edition, picking up 4-54 in the final against Australia.
He started off brilliantly in the IPL, taking 3-21 off his four overs on debut, and followed it up with two outstanding seasons – 18 wickets at 8.81 per over in 2014, and 13 wickets at seven an over in 2015. That got him an India call-up for the Zimbabwe tour in July 2015, where he played two T20Is.
In the next few seasons, he went on about his business with characteristic consistency, picking at least 12 wickets in each IPL season until 2021. During this period, he developed a liking for troubling the best of the lot. His three most frequent victims in the IPL at the time of writing are Virat Kohli (seven dismissals), Rohit Sharma (five), and Chris Gayle (four).
The two T20Is he played against Zimbabwe in 2015 remain his only international experience so far. However, if there is any lesson to take from Sandeep’s resurgence this year, it’s that you should discard the second-highest wicket-taker in the powerplay in IPL history at your own peril.
He may slip under the radar on most occasions, but contrary to what the franchises assumed during the auction, he does have a point of difference – his knowledge of his own game. At 29, he still has a lot to offer.
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