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'I Used To Hit 400 Sixes In A Day'

June 14, 2023 10:51 IST
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'T20 cricket comes naturally to me because it is all about mindset.'
'I am someone who always loves to be aggressive on the field.'

IMAGE: Jitesh Sharma's ability to finish off matches in the final overs makes him a candidate for India's new look T20 team. Photographs: BCCI

Jitesh Sharma was one of the few positives in an otherwise disappointing campaign for the Punjab Kings in IPL 2023.

The wicketkeeper-batter, who plays for Vidarbha in domestic cricket, made the pundits and spectators take notice with some quickfire knocks in the final overs.

Playing just his second IPL season, Jitesh scored 309 runs in 14 games at a strike rate of 156, hitting 21 sixes and 22 fours.

He displayed his brute force to the hilt with match-defining cameos -- blasting 25 from seven balls against the Mumbai Indians, including four sixes, 49 not out from 27 balls against the same opponents, 41 from 27 balls against the Royal Challengers Bangalore, 24 from 10 balls against the Lucknow Super Giants, 44 from 28 balls against the Rajasthan Royal.

The 29-year-old right-hander has made a name for himself as a lower order finisher in T20 cricket, with 2,096 runs overall at a strike rate of 149.

His exploits haven't got unnoticed and earlier this year he was called up to the Indian T20 team for the home series against Sri Lanka when Sanju Samson was ruled out with injury. Although he didn't get a game it showed he was in the selectors' radar.

In IPL 2023, courtesy his attacking knocks, he caught the attention of Virender Sehwag, Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavaskar who believe he can be a handy option for India as the finisher in T20 cricket.

After returning home after a hectic IPL season Jitesh spoke to's Harish Kotian about why T20 cricket comes naturally to him.

You are back home after how long?

I am back home after 3-4 months. It was a good experience in the IPL.

You enjoyed a good season, scoring over 300 runs at a strike rate of 156 despite batting mostly in the last few overs in all your games. How delighted were you to make such an impactful contribution for your team?

I am very happy to contribute for my team. But maybe I feel as a team we should have finished on a winning note.

It was a disappointing season for all us, as the team finished eighth.

Personally, I think I can do better. But I have given my 100 percent in every game. I can understand it doesn't qualify, but I want my performance to end up on a winning note always.

You excelled as the finisher in IPL 2023, playing some amazing cameos in the last few overs. Is the finisher's role a specialist job in T20 cricket because you have to start hitting from the word go?

Every position you bat in T20 cricket is difficult, whether it is as an opener or as a finisher because you have to score at a good strike rate.

There is no specific preparation I would say. I go in for a little bit of common sense practice. Whenever I practice, I have the mindset that I am batting in the 18th over or 19th over, so I bat accordingly.

You spent a lot of time preparing for IPL 2023, like hitting 400 sixes a day in the lead up to the tournament.

I used to hit 400 sixes in a day, it was like 10 sessions of 40 balls each, then take a break of half an hour or one hour.

Then sometimes I used to take two days break to let the muscles recover.

T20 cricket is all about innovation. Have you worked on adding new shots to your batting in recent years?

Every year I practice to explore my cricket. I try to learn every shot because I am aware that all the teams come prepared for me, they will analyse my videos and try to find out my weaknesses.

So I try to keep growing and improving my game, so I can score runs more easily.

Your batting coach at Punjab Kings, Wasim Jaffer, was your team-mate at Vidarbha. How much did that help having someone you have known?

It was a really good help because I have shared the dressing room with him. I know him personally and he also knows about my mindset.

It was a great help for me because it was very easy to communicate with him whenever I got stuck with something or any thoughts.

As colleagues and cricketers we are very close. It was a great help having him at Punjab Kings.

You had to wait a long time for your IPL debut which finally happened last season.
You were bought by Mumbai Indians for Rs 10 lakh ahead of the 2016 auction, but you had to wait for nearly six years before you played your first IPL match last year for the Punjab Kings.
How difficult was the wait?

It was worth the wait. It is better to come into the IPL well prepared than under-prepared. I think that time helped me prepare myself.

I think it was God's will, maybe it was written like that.

I didn't mind the wait. I am getting chances now. I am totally fine with it.

How important was then Punjab Kings head coach Anil Kumble's backing last season because he believed a lot in you?

I totally agree because he played a major part in my success so far. He is someone who picked me at Punjab Kings and he was the only one who believed in me and gave me a chance in the IPL.

I am happy that I didn't disappoint him. He gave me a chance and I was able to prove that I am capable of playing at this level.

You also performed well for Punjab Kings in your debut season last year, with 234 runs in 12 games.
How tough is it for an uncapped player knowing that if you don't perform well in the first few games, you might get dropped and may never get a chance again.
Was there pressure on you in your first few games in IPL?

Obviously, I was very nervous in my debut match.

I can understand that uncapped players have that pressure to perform. It is a privilege also because we have so much competition, it pushes us to grow further.

I love that kind of challenge, it brings out the best in me. So that pressure is a privilege for me.

You were also quite reliable with the gloves in the IPL. How much of hard work has gone into it?

I am a regular wicket-keeper now for my domestic team Vidarbha. I would say wicket-keeping is my primary role and batting comes next.

Do you have any personal coach who has worked with you or guided you?

No, I don't have any personal coach. There are lots of people who have worked with me. There is Ranjit Parad, then there is Shakeel sir, there are many people whom I have worked with.

I am someone who doesn't stick with anyone. I try to learn everything from everyone.

How did cricket happen because when you were growing up in Amravati you wanted to join the Indian Army?

I never wanted to be a cricketer because I was attracted towards the Indian Air Force. In Maharashtra, if you play any sports for the state, you get 4 percent extra marks. In that greediness, I took up cricket.

My school cricket team was very good at that time, and my friend asked me to come along for the trials. If we get selected and our team qualifies for the state, then we get extra marks.

So I agreed and from that day onwards, cricket became part of my life.

Why were you attracted towards the Indian Air Force?

My grandfather Sitaram Sharma used to serve in the Indian National Army under Subhas Chandra Bose. Dad used to tell me stories about grandfather that he was very brave so that made me think about joining the Indian Army.

Were your parents supportive when you took up cricket?

My father was very supportive, he was very clear do what you want to do. I don't care if you fail in the 10th standard, but you should have a basic knowledge of how the world works. He told me that I am free to choose any profession, I will never object to it.

You seem to relish playing T20 cricket. You smashed 57 from 28 balls on your Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 debut for Vidarbha against UP in 2014 and boast of a good record of 2,096 runs in 90 games at a strike rate of 149.

T20 cricket comes naturally to me because it is all about mindset.

I am someone who always loves to be aggressive on the field. I think T20 cricket comes naturally to me.

You were called up to the Indian team for the Sri Lanka T20 series in January as the replacement for Sanju Samson, but didn't get any games. How was the experience of being in the Indian dressing room? Did you get a chance to speak to Rahul Dravid?

It was an outstanding experience. To wear that blue is a different feeling altogether.

I have been around a similar circuit in the IPL, things work in a pretty much similar fashion.

I spoke to Rahul Dravid Sir, I dicussed cricketing side of things with him.

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