Fri. Jun 21st, 2024

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The stage was set for yet another MS Dhoni masterclass at the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2023 on Thursday. With Chennai Super Kings (CSK) needing 54 runs from 18 balls, the scale was slightly tipped towards Rajasthan Royals but the home crowd’s roar at the MA Chidambaram Stadium told a different story. Dhoni was at the crease and the CSK fans were brimming with confidence that ‘Thala’ will weave his magic once again. 14 runs came from the 18th over and 19 runs from the 19th over as the equation kept getting better for CSK. With Dhoni hitting sixes for fun, it seemed like the match was headed for only one finish. It was as if a fairytale involving one of Chennai’s favourite sons was unfolding in front of a packed crowd of yellow-jersey wearing die-hard fans but sadly, no one seemed to have given the script to Sandeep Sharma.

Sharma, who was handed the responsibility to bowl the final over, is not new to the tournament. The pacer from Patiala made his IPL debut way back in 2011 and over the years, he has developed a reputation of being a dependable but inconsistent asset. While his years with Punjab Kings and Sunrisers Hyderabad saw some brilliant performances, he failed to make himself indispensable.

As a result, it came as little surprise that the 29-year-old did not find any takers in the IPL 2023 auction. Sharma is a kind of bowler who never had express pace but his movement made him a major threat to even the best batters in the world. Even Chris Gayle at the height of his explosive powers sometimes seemed bothered by the consistent movement that Sharma was known for.

The movement continued to pay rich dividends in the domestic circuit, but with the IPL becoming more of a batter’s game, teams slowly started moving towards bowlers who are faster and can produce high speed deliveries on the flattest of pitches. A “shocked and disappointed” Sharma vowed to work hard in an interview right after the auction but his wait was shorter than expected.

Young pacer Prasidh Krishna was ruled out of the tournament due to injury and Rajasthan Royals suddenly found themselves in hunt of a fast bowling option. Sandeep Sharma was brought into the fold to add experience to a star-studded bowling attack and he was into the thick of things very quickly with the management choosing him as the one to partner Trent Boult and Jason Holder.

So, clearly, Sandeep was no novice as he stepped up to bowl the final over. He started with two wides as the equation for CSK came down to 19 off six balls.

Then he bowled a dot with a perfectly placed yorker. Both Sandeep Sharma and RR could not have asked for a better start. The belief was slowly returning to the Rajasthan camp but one ball later – calamity! A wayward delivery flew off Dhoni’s bat to the fine-leg boundary for a six and the following ball was also dispatched for another maximum over deep mid-wicket.

The pressure was now firmly on Sharma but he decided to tweak his game plan slightly.

“I backed my strength of executing the yorkers. I have been bowling the yorkers well in the nets. One side of the ground was bigger so I decided to bowl a yorker on the heels (of MS Dhoni) but it turned out to be low full tosses and both were hit for sixes. After that, I changed my plan and went around the wicket to change the angle and it’s great it gave me a different result,” he said.

Two brilliant full-length deliveries followed and both Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja could only manage to get singles off them. 5 runs needed off the final ball and Dhoni was towering at the crease.

The excitement had finally reached its crescendo and millions of spectators were glued to their TV and mobile screens to see how the story finally ends. Dhoni looked all ready to give the ball a mighty whack but Sharma came up with an old and trusted weapon – the yorker. He bowled a wide yorker and one of the best finishers of the game could only manage to play it to mid-wicket for a single.

In a moment when emotions were running high all around him, Sharma had a beaming smile on his face and he just pointed his finger up as if to take in the moment. Just months ago, he did not receive a single bid from the ten franchises but under the floodlights in Chennai on Wednesday, the IPL veteran took a small but significant step towards making himself “indispensable”.

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