“Keep believing in yourself and stick to your process,” head coach Rahul Dravid had told Jitesh Sharma when he briefly entered the Indian dressing room earlier this year after an injury to Sanju Samson.
While the ‘Orange Cap’ and accolades are normally reserved for top-order batters, the 29-year-old Vidarbha batter-keeper’s finishing ability is like gold dust that the current Indian T20 set-up is desperately seeking.
“There are always discussions on how one can improve. Yes, I had discussions with Rahul sir, when I was selected during the home season a few months back,” Jitesh told PTI during an interaction after he was named in the Indian team for the Asian Games in Hangzhou, starting September 23.
The cricket event starts on September 28.
So what exactly did Dravid tell him?
“Jaise batting kar rahein ho, waise hi karte raho. Aur yehi dekh rahe hain hum future ke liye. Humein aise players hi chahiye is position ke liye. (The way you are batting, continue in the same vein. We are specifically looking for players like these for certain batting positions (No. 5 and 6),” the national coach’s advice during his brief interaction is imprinted in his mind.
A finisher’s job in T20 cricket requires clinical precision along with ice-cool temperament, something which Jitesh possesses in abundance, having been there and done that during two seasons with Punjab Kings in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Jitesh has made heads turn with his explosive batting in the end overs and is expected to carry his good form in the Asian Games.
“Not surprised,” Dravid said when asked about his selection. “Somehow as a player, you have that inkling that you are there in the mix and I think it was a well-deserved call-up.”
Jitesh has a fantastic strike rate of nearly 150 over 90 T20 games, including 26 IPL matches.
So how did he develop his power game which has helped him as a finisher?
“Good habits stay with you and power hitting is a habit that I have inculcated. I try to focus on imbibing good training habits. What you do repeatedly in nets, you will be able to execute that in a high-pressure match situation,” said Jitesh, who has 77 boundaries (44 fours and 33 sixes) in 24 IPL innings so far, having batted mostly deep into the last 10 overs.
In the role of a finisher, simulation is very important and Jitesh enjoys putting pressure on himself even during net sessions which makes it easier for him to execute in real match situations.
“I do create match simulation situations for myself. I visualise myself always going in the 16th, 17th or 18th over. Then I put myself in imaginary match situations where you need 30 off 12 balls or 18 from 6 balls or 12 runs off 3 balls,” Jitesh explained his process.
“I just don’t go through the motion. In every net session, I practice with a specific aim in mind. And that’s how when I find myself in similar situations during the match, I find it easy to maintain the momentum,” he said.
So does it make him wary that there are so many quality wicketkeeper-batters all gunning for one slot?
There is Rishabh Pant, who will come back at some point in time, there is Ishan Kishan, currently India’s No.1 keeper-batter across formats, Samson is very much present, while Jitesh will have Prabhsimran Singh for company in the Asiad squad.
“Yes, there is competition if you look at it that way. But one should only compete with one’s self rather than looking at others,” he said.
“I would endeavour to get better every day. Whatever scope I get, it should be invested in improving myself. All of us want to play for the country and that’s an ultimate goal for everyone. Your fight will be with yourself.”
A multi-sport event like Asian Games will be a different experience for him.
“I am very happy and excited to be a part of such a prestigious event and meet renowned athletes. I am currently in the pre-season camp with the Vidarbha team and we are training at the Old Civil Lines ground. I was about to go off to sleep when a friend called up to inform me about my selection. My parents were already off to sleep and when I got up next day to inform them, they already knew,” he laughed.
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