Sandeep Sharma could hardly dig into his plate of nachos, when a couple of flight attendants walked up to him to click some selfies. At the Pune airport on Monday afternoon, as the medium pacer from Punjab waited for his flight to Chandigarh - which was delayed by an hour - some of the enthusiastic fans wanted to know why Kings XI Punjab surrendered to Rising Pune Supergiant in the last group match of the Indian Premier League (IPL).
They were concerned about Kings XI’s poor record, and even had suggestions on team formation for next season. While Sandeep quietly nodded his head and chose to remain silent, it looked surprising that not one of the fans asked him how he felt after picking up 17 wickets in the IPL this year!
Perhaps, Sandeep is quite used to all this. Ever since his debut in the IPL four years ago, the medium pacer has been quite consistent for Kings XI. But even then, he has failed to get the attention.
“I am okay with it. This has been a good season for me, so I am not complaining,” Sandeep told Sportstar with a shy smile, sitting at one corner of the airport’s waiting lounge. He munched on the nachos, and quickly added: “This time I have also been economical as a bowler, and have received two Man of the Match awards. It has been a pretty good season that way.”
Coming into the tournament, Sandeep was not particularly sure about how the season would turn out to be. But once he took the field, the tension eased out, and Sandeep could get back his old rhythm. “I have always given my hundred per cent, and this time, things have gone the way I wanted,” he said, making it clear that the major highlight of the season was his three-wicket haul against a star-studded Royal Challengers Bangalore.
In that match on May 5, Sandeep not only guided his team to a victory, but also scalped the wickets of Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers. “That was definitely the best game of the year. Such moments are rare for a cricketer, and I am lucky that way,” he said.
As the 23-year-old walked down memory lane, there were announcements about departure of other flights. While some of the passengers sitting next to him walked up towards the boarding gate, Sandeep quickly checked the time. It was 1:30pm, and there was still no announcement about his flight home. “It has been a gruelling season, so I just feel like going home and [sleeping]. Aur idhar toh flight hi late ho gaya ,” he said with a wicked smile. Those who have played with him believe that it’s his jovial nature that keeps the dressing room alive.
However, on field, Sandeep has had issues of losing his cool. This time too, he was fined for showing dissent at an umpiring decision. Though he doesn’t approve of it, the youngster admitted that in high-voltage matches, those moments of losing cool actually motivates a bowler. “ Pressure rehta hai bhai ,” he said, adding: “That’s why you lose your cool, and at times, those things help you pick up more wickets,” he said.
He, however, is happy to have found a new motivator in Kings XI Punjab’s team director Virender Sehwag. “Viru paaji always made it a point that we remained positive. That is one thing that helped me perform better,” he said, admitting that Sehwag could time and again give him tips to improve his performance. “We were a happily knit unit,” Sandeep said.
After Kings XI bowed out of the tournament following Sunday’s defeat, Sehwag had lashed out at captain Glenn Maxwell for not taking responsibility, indicating that all was not well in the camp. Sandeep, however, refuted such claims. “There were no hard feelings,” he said, indicating that they failed to understand the nature of the Pune wicket. “It rained the day before the match and we didn’t know how the wicket would be. That caused the confusion. In the middle, batsmen like (Glenn) Maxwell and (Martin) Guptill found themselves in a spot as the wicket didn’t favour us. It was a bad day,” Sandeep admitted.
In 2015, he represented India in two T20s in Zimbabwe, and it has been a dry run since then. But a good IPL season has again brought back the confidence. “After a little break, I would start training again. There are India A tours lined up, and then…” a departure announcement interrupted him, and Sandeep got up and walked towards the boarding arena.
After long wait, his flight was ready for a take-off. He couldn’t afford to miss it!
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