In June 2014, I received a clip on WhatsApp from a friend who is as passionate about domestic cricket as yours truly. The objective of sharing the clip was to expose the sub-standard umpiring in domestic cricket. But the clip in itself was startling.
It was the era before select domestic cricket games were streamed on OTT platforms. It was cut through BCCI’s own six-camera set-up, primarily created to monitor umpires’ performance.
After a bit of fact-check, and verification with the bowler involved, one can be sure that it was during a Vijay Hazare Trophy game between Uttar Pradesh and Vidarbha, played at the KL Saini Ground in Jaipur in March 2014.
The bowler - Piyush Chawla, also the UP captain then - attempted a flipper. The batter - wicketkeeper-opener Jitesh Sharma, playing only his third List A game - rocked on the backfoot, pulled the ball and almost fell on the stumps. He had dislodged the bails with his foot and the leg stump was bent.
The non-striker - Faiz Fazal - called for a single. The striker took off, stuttered for a while since he was disappointed to have hit-wicket himself but still completed the run. Fazal completed the run, placed the bail on the stumps and straightened the stump.
Neither the wicketkeeper nor the slip fielder nor Chawla - and even both the umpires, Milind Pathan and Navdeep Singh - realised that the batter was hit-wicket. All of them were following the ball.
As Chawla confirmed to Sportstar, Jitesh was batting in the 20s then. The partnership continued. And he went on to score a hundred - and an opening partnership of 183 with Faiz - to set up Vidarbha’s facile six-wicket win.
Cut to January 4, and the same batter - Jitesh Sharma - earned his maiden call-up to India’s squad. Once Sanju Samson was ruled out after digging his knee into the sub-standard Wankhede Stadium outfield in the series-opener, Jitesh was selected as the back-up wicketkeeper for the second and third T20Is versus Sri Lanka.
Thanks to his relentless toil for almost a decade, Jitesh has moved closest to realising his ultimate dream of representing India. The Amravati boy may have made heads roll due to his stellar batting in the middle and as a finisher for Punjab Kings in Indian Premier League’s 2022 edition.
But he has been one of the most effective limited overs cricketers for Vidarbha. Despite being unable to cement his place in Vidarbha’s Ranji Trophy side and having been stamped as a white-ball specialist, Jitesh continued to believe in himself.
When Mumbai Indians signed him at a base price of Rs. 10 lakh ahead of IPL 2016, he thought of having cracked the big league. However, despite being around for two seasons, with MI possibly having its best team out on the park, Jitesh could not get a look-in.
For the next four seasons, he was trying his best to impress IPL scouts and emerging as a vital cog in Vidarbha’s limited overs set-up. Then came the 2022 Auction and Punjab Kings bought him at his base price of Rs. 20 lakh.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Jitesh is unlikely to make his debut anytime soon but thoroughly deserves the call-up. One can only wonder whether Chawla, the veteran leggie, reminds him of that incident in March 2014 the next time they meet, possibly during IPL 2023.