Young left-arm pacer Chetan Sakariya was one of the highlights of Rajasthan Royals despite its sluggish first-half campaign in the Indian Premier League 2021.

In his maiden season, the 22-year-old from Bhavnagar toyed with the big players before COVID-19 cases in the IPL bio-bubble postponed the tournament. The virus scare in the Royals camp started mounting after Sunrisers Hyderabad’s Wriddhiman Saha returned COVID-19 positive.

“We had just played a game against Sunrisers and after every match, the players usually catch up at the ground. We were hoping not to return positive since we had met a few players from their team,” Sakariya told  Sportstar  after reaching home on Wednesday.

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He dismissed big-hitters K.L. Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Suresh Raina, Ambati Rayudu and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to become an overnight sensation inside the first three games. “Initially, I felt the pressure but later on, I handled that. I bowled a few good spells to some great batsmen. I never thought I would bowl to them someday. That gave me a lot of confidence. I think I bowled better than I thought I would. I have to improve but I am happy with my performance.

“Mahi [Dhoni] bhai ’s wicket was my favourite. I was happily shocked. It felt unreal. If you see the video, you will know how shocked I was,” he said.

The youngster, who picked up seven wickets with 3/31 being his best performance, praised overseas team-mates Mustafizur Rahman and Jos Buttler for their inputs. “Mustafizur is a good reader of the wicket. He will tell you when to bowl your slower delivery. He knows how to unsettle the rhythm of a batsman.

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“Buttler, though a batsman, told me a lot about bowling in the Powerplay. He would stand beside when I bowled during the practice games. He told me to stick to the length and not worry about conceding a boundary. It’s just that there should not be a single loose delivery,” he said.

Sakariya’s change of pace fetched him a lot of wickets. Senior Royals pacer Jaydev Unadkat, also his state team Saurashtra’s captain, kept him motivated.

“JD bhai knew how I bowled. He ensured that I was ready. He helped me prepare.” said Sakariya, who now wants to focus on strength training. His dreams of buying a house for the family with the IPL salary of Rs 1.20 crore “will have to be on hold” for the pandemic.