“Chris Gayle doesn’t like it when the ball moves from his right eye to left.” Insightful, incisive, and yet simple from Sandeep Sharma, just like his bowling then. Sharma’s art lies in bending the ball across a batsman’s visual field. Drag it across like a wiper, make the eyes jerk and mess up the eye-hand coordination, affect his balance, and ultimately, make him play early or stab it out too late. And he can curve it both ways.
A swing bowler couldn’t have explained the essence of his art better than that comment about Gayle made couple of years back. Not a surprise then that he is the king of Powerplays. With 53 wickets, he has surpassed Zaheer Khan to become the bowler with the highest wickets in that phase. This season he has taken 9 of his 13 wickets in powerplay.
“Last season, I did not get much opportunity with the new ball (as team had Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Sidharth Kaul) When I would bowl in the death overs, I was trying to figure out how can I bowl my variations like knuckle ball, bowling wide outside off, and out-swinger from around the stumps in the death overs. Mentally it was almost the same as the batsman are trying to hit in the death overs just like in the powerplay. This year, the mastering of variations has helped and I see powerplay as something which helps bowling team to dominate,” Sharma tells The Indian Express from UAE, a day ahead of the crunch Eliminator against Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“Next year tere ko bahut maar padegi (you will get hit a lot),” he tells Sportsadda in an Instagram chat about what Virender Sehwag told him in 2014. He was 21 then, had taken 18 wickets in that IPL for Kings XI Punjab and feeling happy with the world when the coach Sehwag jolted him. “They will be prepared for your swing. They will see you off for first two overs and then smash you,” Sehwag had told him, he says. Asked what he should do, Sehwag told him to “learn yorkers and come”.
That he did, bettered the economy rate and sought out Sehwag at the end of the tournament in 2015. ‘What should I learn next year?’ “Learn wide yorker and come.” And so that too came in.
In 2014, Sharma had suffered a stress fracture and while he made his debut for India in the Zimbabwe tour in 2015, he had to undergo a surgery post a shoulder injury. It would take 18 months to achieve peak fitness and he had to relearn the ability to swing the ball. “The shoulder surgery was a major setback in my career. Before that, I was bowling around 130-134 KPH. 80 percent of my shoulder was damaged and the muscle got shortened by 5-6 inches after the surgery. So when I started bowling again, my bowling arm would not come near my ear. Prior to the injury, things like in-swingers came naturally to me but post-surgery, I had to spent a lot of time changing wrist position and had to do stuff consciously to make that happen,” remembers Sharma.
2018 brought in the knuckleball that has got him the wickets of Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma this season. “I have spoken to many batsmen and they say that as the arm speed remains the same and the seam comes on, it looks like a normal seam up delivery but it deceives him. As a bowler, if I can land it at a proper spot, it becomes very hard to read,” he tells this newspaper. The knuckleball came because Sunrisers Hyderabad thinktank told him then he needs something apart from his swing and yorkers as he could be bowling from anywhere from middle to end overs.
This year, it has been the straight ball. It was Johnny Bairstow who said if he can get the ball to go on straight, batsmen would be deceived as they expect it to curve this way and that. Promptly, he set to work to nail it, as Bangalore’s Devdutt Padikkal would attest. Tired of watching the ball repeatedly bend away from him, he went for a big heave, the bat coming down at an angle to cover for the away delivery, but this one went on straight to rattle his stumps. “I had to work on my wrist position to get that ball straight,” he told the broadcasters after the match.
In this IPL too, social media has been abuzz with talks him being a slow medium-pacer but Sharma says such things don’t bother him. “I don’t care and I don’t listen to what people are saying. People always talk or discuss which you don’t have. People don’t talk about what we have.”
What he has is this: He has taken out Virat Kohli 7 times in IPL, Rohit Sharma has trudged back four times and so has Gayle, that man who doesn’t like the ball traversing across his eyes. With 108 wickets at a strike rate of 18.60, he is the fifth seamer in the highest wicket takers list in IPL and there is no surprise how he got there – skill, hard work, and a constant re-invention.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines