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IPL 2024: How this Punjab Kings dasher battled depression for glory

Source: PTI
April 05, 2024 21:27 IST
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IMAGE: Ashutosh Sharma's late cameo powered Punjab Kings to victory against Gujarat Titans on Thursday. Photographs: BCCI

"There was a time when I wasn't even allowed to get a feel of the cricket ground," Ashutosh Sharma said revealing the toughest phase of his cricket life, a day after playing the most eventful match of his short career.


The 25-year-old Railways cricketer, whose 31 off 17 balls earned Punjab Kings a creditable win in a high-scoring chase against Gujarat Titans, was speaking about the time between 2020-22 when he didn't know where his career was heading.

He had fallen out of favour with India's most celebrated domestic coach Chandrakant Pandit, who had then just taken over as the head coach of Madhya Pradesh.

"I would go to the gym and retire to my hotel room. I was sinking into depression and no one told me what my fault was. A new coach had joined Madhya Pradesh and he had strong likes and dislikes and despite scoring 90 odd in 45 balls in a trial match, I was dropped from the team," Ashutosh said without naming the coach.

Though he did no mention the Mumbaikar but it is clear he was referring to Pandit.

After pacer Gourav Yadav (former MP pacer), and Namibia's David Wiese (former KKR all-rounder), now Ashutosh has railed against the Mumbaikar's 'my way or highway' style of coaching.

"I had three fifties in six Mushtaq Ali games in the previous season yet I wouldn't even be allowed to go to the ground. I was very depressed," the angst was visible in 25-year-old's voice as he spoke to reporters.

IMAGE: Punjab Kings' batting stars Ashutosh Sharma and Shashank Singh. Photograph: BCCI

It was a job offer from Railways that once again helped him get out of the hole and last year he equalled Yuvraj Singh's record of fastest T20 fifty in 11 balls against minnows Arunachal Pradesh during the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.

It earned him an auction bid for Punjab Kings as team's batting coach and former Railway legend Sanjay Bangar spotted him.

But if there is anyone who makes Ashutosh emotional is his childhood coach Amay Khurasiya, the former India left-hander, who has seen him at the MPCA Academy since age of 12. Khurasiya was there even when Ashutosh was facing mental health crisis.

"Amay sir knows me since childhood. I got a lot of tips on mental health from him. I speak to him before every game and even before this game I spoke with him. Also inputs from Shikhar Paaji (Dhawan), Sanjay sir on playing proper shots instead of trying to slog helped."

Khurasiya couldn't be more happier for his ward, who he first saw at the Indore Academy as a 12 year-old, who had come all the way from Ratlam to make a career in cricket.

When asked about how his career went downhill after Pandit's outright rejection, Khurasiya spoke about his philosophy.

"You have to empower the kid. Every kid will come from a different socio-economic background. They will have different behavioural pattern. As a coach it my duty to find a connect with the boy rather expect him to connect with me instantly. If his attitude is a problem, it is my duty to bring him around and lead him towards that," Khurasiya told PTI.

But he said that it is easier said than done.

"You need to do extensive work on psychological aspect of the child. How you want to align the boy's cricketing philosophy with yours is not the boy's problem. It is easy to disregard, disrespect and alienate the boy from system. But if you have the power help, try to help," said Khurasiya, whose batting style was ahead of its time.

"If he (the coach) is thinking that a boy isn't going to make mistakes, he is wrong. Boys will make mistakes. The coaches have a tendency to lean towards brilliance. For coaches, it is important to work on EQ (emotional quotient) rather than BQ (brilliancy quotient)," he said.

It is never easy to live alone in your pre-teen days and Ashutosh did have his share of struggles after his parents left him in Indore to hone cricket skills as Ratlam never had the facilities.

"That time was very difficult as I had to stay away from home in Indore. I had my share of struggles, at times. I didn't have money to buy food, so I would be umpiring to ensure one meal is ensured, staying in a very small accommodation, I had to wash my clothes, but MPCA academy helped me. Amay sir helped me a lot," Ashutosh recalled.

His mother Hemlata Sharma said that they are an average middle-class family but there were no financial struggles as such.

"Ashutosh's father (Rambabu Sharma) works at ESI Hospital in Ratlam. We didn't have financial struggles but from a young age Ashutosh had his own struggle. And it was when he joined Railways, uske sitaare chamak uthe (his fortunes changed)," Hemlata said.

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