While the coronavirus outbreak has significantly altered the sports calendar worldwide, questions surrounding IPL 2020 has the most number of people worried in India. Players who had hoped to make their mark this season, like Sunrisers Hyderabad (SRH) fast bowler Sandeep Sharma, cannot wait for clarity on the IPL.
Talking exclusively to Indian Express Online from his home in Punjab’s Patiala, a long way from his workplace, Sharma said, “I have been keeping myself busy in bodyweight training like pushups, crunches, squats, and stair climbing. In the absence of proper gym facilities, I am also working on the swish ball for core exercises.”
Several challenges occupy players who are eager to not lose fitness during this extended period of social isolation and lockdown. Homes have turned into gyms and backyard lawns have become playgrounds for many.
“I have been trying to keep myself fit by running in my backyard garden and playing tennis cricket with my brothers,” said the 26-year-old speedster.
A Punjab Ranji player and a member of the India Under-19 World Cup-winning team of 2010, Sharma is also concerned about the fact that the long break will affect his game. “The month-long break will not only affect the game of a bowler, but batsmen will also struggle to get back their touch. Now the challenge after the lockdown would be to get into shape and get ample match practice,” said Sharma.
The right-arm medium pacer, who started his cricket journey from a government school in Patiala, is no stranger to extra hard work when the situation demands. “It will be a matter of 8-10 days because most of us are playing tennis ball cricket at home to stay in touch,” he said.
Sharma has been playing the IPL since 2013 and has been a part of 79 matches so far. A gully cricketer, he was first spotted by current Punjab Ranji team coach Munish Bali in 2007. In 2013, he bagged his first IPL contract with KXIP. Eventually came a contract from SRH.
Unlike other IPL franchises, SRH had not started its camp for the upcoming season when the outbreak reached India. Training was supposed to start from March 22 but was postponed due to the 21-day lockdown announcement.
“We have received no communication from the BCCI or the franchise about when IPL will take place. The last communication was about the postponement of the IPL till April 14,” Sharma said.
Would a closed-door tournament dull spirits? “For every professional cricketer, the tournament and the matches are important. That’s what they want. It does not matter if it’s being played in a stadium full of spectators or at an empty venue. A player’s focus would always be on winning the game even if it’s a club-level match. But at the same time, playing before thousands of cricket fans always makes you feel good,” said the bowler.
Most of Sharma’s cherished moments in the IPL, however, involve large crowds. “Playing two IPL finals (2016 and 2018 for SRH), getting Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, and AB de Villiers out (IPL 2017) in a single match and my first IPL Man of the Match award (2014, for KXIP) are some of the best memories for me,” he said.
In 2015, riding high on his economical bowling in the IPL, Sandeep donned India’s colours in 2015. His debut against Zimbabwe was on July 17, 2015, in a T20 international. After playing in two T20Is, Sandeep was injured. That shoulder injury kept him from the game for almost a year.
“I have become mentally strong and matured. Playing with the world’s best players and bowling in different situations has helped me evolve as a mature cricketer. In Kings XI Punjab I used to get the new ball to bowl, but with Bhuvneshwar Kumar being the pace spearhead in SRH, I am called to bowl at any over. In the process, I have gained that confidence and experience of bowling any over from 1-20 in T20 cricket,” he said.
Sharma’s India dream endures. “My long term goal is to play for India again. I got that chance in 2015 but owing to the shoulder injury, I could not retain my place. Now with a better show in the IPL and other domestic games, I want to aim for a place in Indian cricket team,” he said.
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