"Kane Williamson gave me the freedom to perform," says Sandeep Sharma
Remember a tense India versus Pakistan quarter-final in the 2012 U-19 World Cup? India was off to a flying start with Pakistan reeling at 0/2. The person who created the chaos in the Pakistan camp was the Indian fast bowler Sandeep Sharma. India, later on, went on to win the Cup. A truly spirited swing bowler had announced himself then.
Two U-19 World Cups participations including one title triumph, regular Ranji Trophy appearances for Punjab, successful IPL journey, and an India debut – Sharma has sailed successfully through almost everything. Lately, he has impressed everyone with his brilliant bowling for the Sunrisers Hyderabad in the Indian Premier League. But there is still a long way to go, he insists.
Here are the main excerpts from the exclusive interview.
How was the experience playing for Sunrisers Hyderabad under Kane Williamson?
Sandeep Sharma: It was a great experience playing under Kane Williamson. He is a very cool captain and gives you enough space and time to bowl. He is very easy from a bowler’s point of view and allows you to be the captain of your own bowling. He allowed me to set my own fields and backed me up.
What are the takeaways when you have someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the squad?
Sandeep Sharma: It feels great to have someone like him in the team and that too as a part of the bowling unit. He has been a consistent player. He is a really helpful and a wonderful bowling partner. I have learned how to adjust to situations, how to set the fields.
Full credits to the coaching staff who have been cool and supportive as ever – Tom Moody, VVS Laxman, and Muttiah Muralitharan. They have made me mentally stronger on how to stay positive even after getting hit by a batsman. They guide you and tell you what to do and what not. The best part is they let you stay grounded after good games and do not allow you to get carried away.
You have played just 2 T20Is for India. Do you feel you did not get enough chances post-that?
Sandeep Sharma: I feel so I was unfortunate after I made my debut. Soon after that, I had a shoulder injury that was operated upon. I couldn’t play for a year. After I got fit, I did not have an outstanding season, neither did I have a totally bad season. However, I was always performing well, was always among the wickets. I expected an India A chance too but did not happen. As of now, I am entirely focused on getting back into the national team and am working step-by-step towards it.
What are your efforts in trying to make it to the Indian Cricket Team once again?
Sandeep Sharma: I have worked on a lot of aspects like bowling variations, fitness levels, and mental skills. I have matured and experienced as a player now. I now realize how and what needs to be done. I have been around experienced cricketers and that has helped me a lot. I have developed knuckle-ball as a part of my armory too.
You’ve been quite confident and mature in your press conferences lately during the IPL. How has the change happened?
Sandeep Sharma: Early days it was tough to talk to the media and give answers. They would come up with questions you are not aware of, and you fall into the trap. But it helped when I had people like Virender Sehwag and Adam Gilchrist in the Kings XI Punjab team who give you a lot of advice. They are wonderful people to work with, they teach you how to be confident and what to say, how to keep calm and give correct answers.
As a sportsperson, you should always be nice, not only to the media but everyone. Sport teaches you a lot. Even during your bad days and mood, you need to maintain your calm. That’s all sport is all about.
What is your strongest bowling variation? And an IPL wicket that you will cherish the most?
Sandeep Sharma: I have always believed that swing is my main weapon, and troubling the batsman with some pace and swing is what I love to do. Getting Virat Kohli and Chris Gayle out in the same match twice in 2014 are the wickets that have been special to me. Also, last year I removed Kohli, Gayle, and ABD in the same match is something that I cherish the most.
Tell us about the influence of Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh on you in the Punjab Ranji Trophy squad.
Sandeep Sharma: Bhajji and Yuvi Paaji have been extremely helpful. Having watched them from childhood, I have been lucky to learn the tricks of the trade from them. They have talked to us about their experiences and that has helped us. Things like what they used to think in a certain situation and how they reacted and prepared for a big game like the World Cup. It is always nice to listen to them.
How is it to be a U-19 World Cup winner? How has it helped you over the years?
Sandeep Sharma: Honestly, if I tell you those were the best days of my cricket life. I have been a part of two U-19 squads and have made a lot of friends. Winning in such tournaments is a great feeling, those are the lifetime memories that I will always cherish.
How have the NCA camps helped you in the offseason or between tours?
Sandeep Sharma: NCA has helped me a lot. I have learned everything from the staff, people like Bharat Arun and Ashish Kaushik. I have learned a lot of physical and mental aspects of bowling there. The credit goes to the supportive team there who have always been there.
What are the plans for the upcoming domestic season?
Sandeep Sharma: My plans are to stick to the basics and to perform well in the season. I am working hard on my fitness and game and the efforts are there to put my name is right up there in the top wicket-takers list. After that, I aim to perform well in the IPL to make it a good season overall. Basically, the focus is to keep short goals and execute them with perfection.
Has there been any special advice that you have received from either MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli?
Sandeep Sharma: I haven’t had much of a chance so far to interact with MS Dhoni so far. Recently, he was there at NCA where I was for my training. We had general talks. With Kohli, there has not been much interaction. During my India debut, Ajinkya Rahane was the captain.
What has been your favorite moment in the career so far?
Sandeep Sharma: My India debut in 2015 on the tour to Zimbabwe remains my best cricketing moment so far. Also, my first-class debut for Punjab and winning the U-19 World Cup in Australia in 2012 are special to me.
Do you think Sandeep Sharma has what it takes to become an Indian team regular in the near future?