Rahul Sharma: ‘I won’t let people forget me’

The tall legspinner recounts how he faded from cricketing limelight, and expresses determination to bounce back strongly.

Rahul Sharma at the Chinnaswamy Stadium.   -  Shayan Acharya

That gentleman in blue tee and grey shorts stood at one corner of the lower-tier as the Kolkata Knight Riders players walked into the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium on Saturday evening.

The excited fans shouted their lungs out as Gautam Gambhir and Yusuf Pathan passed by. They yelled for selfies, autographs and even a hug - only to be left disappointed. That gentleman in blue tee and grey shots stood quietly, without moving much. It looked as if he had nowhere to go.

Minutes later Robin Uthappa walked up to him, hugged him tight and took him towards the batting arena. The enthusiastic crowd, which was all this while looking through the gentleman was all curious. Some of them took random photos, while a few searched the internet only to discover that the gentleman is an once-upon-a-time India international.

His name is Rahul Sharma. The tall leg-spinner from Jalandhar was considered the next big thing of Indian cricket after a dramatic entry into the Indian Premier League (IPL). That was in 2011. Sharma was just 24 then.

But the gentleman who walked up to Sportstar to talk about cricket on Saturday evening didn’t look all that energetic. But then, as he walked down memory lane, there were glimpses of the old Sharma - fun loving and chirpy.

“Injury played a big role in my career. It was nothing else. I don’t blame it on anyone,” Sharma told Sportstar. The first time he suffered a back spasm was three years ago, while playing for Delhi Daredevils. What looked like a short-term ailment turned career threatening for Sharma. “When it happened I was not too sure how deadly it was. But slowly, the entire lower part of the body would go numb. It got difficult to bowl,” Sharma said, shaking his head in disappointment.

By then, he had played four One-Day Internationals (ODIs) and two Twenty20 Internationals (T20Is) for India. Not that his career was in the upswing, but Sharma made himself visible in the circuit. With the injury gripping him, Sharma was confined to home. That became the world for the 30-year-old leggie. “Nobody knew where I was. None of my team-mates knew about it. The parents were worried. They would often feel that I would go into depression. The phase was so bad…” he continued.

As he spoke about the days bygone, one of his former India team-mate Gambhir passed by, exchanging a few words. “I am still hopeful of a return,” Sharma sounded confident soon after. The fact that he was sulking all this while was hard to believe as the spinner looked confident of a possible return. “This season too Rahul (Dravid) bhai had called me for trials at the Delhi Daredevils. But then, I was unlucky again,” he said. Not that he failed to make an impact, the fact was Sharma could not even bowl more than one ball as the back injury was back to haunt him. “After just one delivery, I could feel the pain. I knew the season was over for me. And it was…” he took a pause, looking blatantly towards the ground.

“Look at those lights, look at that lush green wicket… I miss them yaar,” he said in one breath. And after a quick pause, again continued: “But I am working on my fitness at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) and I am looking forward to making a comeback,” he said. While he was picked for the Punjab squad in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 tournament in February, Sharma had to warm the benches. “But this time, I would come back strong. I won’t let people forget me,” he said.

Misunderstood

Well, even the Kolkata Knight Riders players had no idea about Sharma’s whereabouts, before they saw him on Saturday. While he has no complains, Sharma believes that his simplicity is often misunderstood.

“Remember that drug case?” he asked.

That was not a case one thought he would actually speak about. But it seemed Sharma was willing to let the world know about what happened at that night of 2012, when he and South African Wayne Parnell were arrested on charges of drugs at a Mumbai restaurant. “That was a shock for me. Mujhe naachne ka bahot shaukh hai, and that’s why I had gone there. The police officers thought we were doped. I wasn’t,” he said, adding that even now, he stays far away from drugs or drinks. “I am a religious man. Wherever I go, I carry pictures of goddesses, I don’t even consume non-vegetarian foods. And the cops thought I was doping…”

That changed the world’s perception about him. “After that, people thought, ‘Arey yeh toh aisa hi hai.’ At parties people would offer me beers and on refusing it, the answer would be—‘ab pita nahi kya?. Who would tell them that I was never into drinking,” he claimed.

The disappointment was evident as the conversation went further. “The cops didn’t even let me speak. Our urine samples were taken in medicine bottles. In that lab, there were hundreds of such bottles with no labelling. So, it could have been anybody’s,” he said, adding that the fact he was innocent was proven by the dope test conducted by the BCCI later. “That was a relief,” he said.

Those incidents have made him all the more religious, and family oriented. While he plans to tie the knot next year, Sharma’s immediate goal is to return to cricket. “I miss the action,” he murmured, while walking towards the Club House gate.

As he looked towards the grounds, it was dark by then. The floodlights were turned off. The excitement that was around the KKR players was missing as they had left for the day. The gentleman in blue tee and grey shorts nodded his head in the air, as he passed by a huge IPL advertisement. This was one tournament that brought him under the light, and a Saturday six years later, it was all quiet on the cricket front. Symbolic? Perhaps!

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