CHANDIGARH: He is low-profile, slightly built and doesn’t look like a pace bowler. But Sandeep Sharma is someone who has always punched above his weight.
Now sample this: Do you know that Sandeep Sharma has taken more wickets at a better average and strike-rate in similar number of IPL matches than Indian fast bowling’s numero uno Jasprit Bumrah?
Just to lay the facts bare – In 90 IPL games, Sandeep has picked 108 wickets at an average of 24.02 and strike-rate of 18.6. His economy being 7.75. On the other hand, Bumrah, in 90 IPL games, has 105 wickets to his name at an average of 24.22, strike-rate 19.4, and economy 7.5.
Bumrah has been a mainstay for Mumbai Indians since he was signed by the franchise in 2013. Sandeep also made his IPL debut the same year. From 2013 to 2017, he played for Kings XI Punjab. In the last three seasons, he has represented Sunrisers Hyderabad.
Though there’s no doubting that Bumrah remains a more capable death bowler because of his speed and his ability to bowl accurate yorkers, Sandeep has arguably been more effective with the new ball in his hand.
He has claimed most of his wickets in the Powerplay overs against top-order batsmen, while Bumrah has been more productive in the death overs where batsmen look to slog in search of quick runs.
One more reality. Virat Kohli, perhaps the best batsman of this generation, has been dismissed seven times in the IPL by Sandeep. It is the most a bowler has got the better of Kohli in IPL. In fact, in 12 innings against Sandeep, Kohli has managed to score just 68 runs. Sandeep has also dismissed Rohit Sharma and Chris Gayle four times each in IPL. Gayle averages a mere 10.25 against him.
So does he consider Virat Kohli his “bunny”?
“No, not at all. Virat Kohli is one of the greatest the sport has ever seen. To get him out is always special. For me, Virat, De Villiers, Rohit Sharma and Chris Gayle are the most dangerous batsmen in T20 cricket. Getting their wicket works as a confidence booster,” Sandeep told TOI from Abu Dhabi.
Recently, Sandeep (53 wickets) surpassed Zaheer Khan (52 wickets) to become the most successful Powerplay bowler in IPL.
“The secret of my success is that I try to bowl wicket-to-wicket and vary my pace as much as possible. This year, my strategy has been to bowl according to the dimension of the grounds we have been playing on,” the 27-year-old revealed.
Sandeep reached the 100-wicket mark in the IPL this season by dismissing Kings XI’s Mandeep Singh, who happens to be his Punjab captain in Ranji Trophy.
Does he remember his first IPL wicket? “I do. I used to play for KXIP and interestingly my first wicket came against Sunrisers. The batsman was Hanuma Vihari. Strange, but I got my 100th wicket against KXIP while playing for Sunrisers.”
With 13 wickets in 11 matches this season, Sandeep has played a pivotal role in SRH’s stellar run into the Playoffs.
“Our backs were against the wall, but we had the self-belief and had nothing to lose. In the last three games, we clicked as a unit and got the desired results.”
Elaborating further on SRH’s performance this season, Sandeep said, “Losing Bhuvneshwar (Kumar) early in the tournament was a big setback. There was pressure on the bowling group, but we all took extra responsibilities. Rashid (Khan) and (Thangarasu) Natrajan have been phenomenal. Then Jason Holder joined us in the latter stages and he had an immediate impact. His performance with both the bat and ball has lifted the team.”
Asked whether the desire to play for the national team is still there, Sandeep said, “I have stopped bothering about it (national team selection). Definitely there is disappointment, but some things are not in your hands. At present, my focus is to improve as a bowler and help my team win the eliminator against RCB.
“Hopefully, someday my performance will also get noticed. Till then, I have to keep taking wickets.”