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Rahul Sharma: This IPL’s star bowler battles nerve disorder to spin success story

Pune’s Rahul Sharma had Bell’s Palsy two years ago

Written by Siddhartha Sharma | New Delhi |
May 6, 2011 1:55:48 am

Mumbai Indians is on a roll this IPL season so its win over bottom-placed Pune Warriors’ yesterday at the D Y Patil Stadium wasn’t quite unexpected. What was a surprise,though,was the fact that a bowler,from the losing side,won the Man of the Match Award.

But with figures of 4-0-7-2,Pune’s 24-year-old leg-spinner Rahul Sharma had done enough to buck the trend of the batting-friendly T20 format.

The dream spell by the 6’4” Jalandhar bowler,against the mighty Mumbai batting line-up,has made him the most economical bowler of Season 4 and the second best on the all-time IPL list. And after Mumbai skipper Sachin Tendulkar acknowledged his consistent show at the award ceremony,those in the know say that Sharma’s name is likely to be discussed when national selectors sit to pick the ODI squad for the West Indies tour next week.

In stark contrast to Sharma’s emotions on Wednesday night,a year before the start of IPL Season 3,Sharma had woken up one morning to be overcome by the fear that his cricketing career was as good as over.

A sudden bout of Bell’s Palsy,a dysfunction of the facial nerve that results in one’s inability to control facial muscles and results in temporary paralysis,meant Sharma’s future as a professional cricketer seemed bleak.

“I was advised complete rest by the doctors. My vision was hazy and I couldn’t move my lips. I knew if I quit,I would miss the opportunity. It was a difficult period of my life. I had to do lots of facial exercise but eventually it was my will power that helped me keep going amid the discomfort,” says Sharma who plays for Punjab in the Ranji Trophy.

Even after a year,Sharma isn’t fully recovered as he can’t arch one eyebrow. On the field,however,Sharma hasn’t let this come in the way. His 11 wickets at an economy of 5.27 has seen him tie up the biggest sloggers of world cricket. Sharma feels it’s his height that lends him an extra advantage over other spinners — and the team’s support staff.

“On the eve of every match,our coach Geoff Marsh along with skipper Yuvi paaji (Yuvraj Singh),brief me on every player and I bowl accordingly. Sometimes,that doesn’t work and then I have to think on my feet. I vary the pace a lot and rely heavily on my leg-spinners. My aim is to be accurate as much as I can and the bounce I purchase from the wicket helps me contain runs,” he says.

Says his Punjab Ranji coach and former national selector Bhupinder Singh Senior: “I have advised him to hit the pitch so that he gets bounce. He is very similar to Anil Kumble and can be groomed to be a good limited edition bowler.”

But Sharma isn’t thinking that ahead. “I just want to focus right now on the game,the IPL has helped me improve and my hard work has seen me become Pune’s first choice in the spinner department,” he says.

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