In an era where variation is the new trend to follow, one bowler has decided to keep it traditional and concentrate on the age old trick of swing bowling. Since the shortest form of the game began, swing bowlers started diminishing as the onus was shifted more towards the knuckle balls and the different variations of slower ones.
Sandeep Sharma of Kings XI Punjab did nothing of that but has still been able to carve out a place for himself in being one of the most economical and the leading wicket taking bowlers for his side.
Born in Jalandhar, Sharma started his cricket as a batsman before shifting focus to the art of fast bowling. He signed with the Kings in 2013 and picked up three wickets on his debut against the Sunrisers Hyderabad. Winner of the 2012 U-19 World Cup, Sharma was selected for the T20 international series against Zimbabwe in 2015 but failed to create the impact that he had for Punjab.
In the tenth edition of the IPL, Sharma is back with a bang and with his consistent performances with the ball in a faltering Punjab side. And if the 23-year-old keeps his performance levels up, he will soon be knocking on the doors of the selectors.
Sharma has grabbed 11 wickets in eight IPL games so far and is the fourth highest Indian wicket-taker, behind Bhuvaneshwar Kumar, Yuzvendra Chahal and Jasprit Bumrah. If you look at the other two seamers on this list, Kumar has taken his game to an altogether different level because of his death overs bowling whereas Bumrah has always been a good bowler in the death along with his brilliant slower ones.
Sharma neither has the expertise to bowl consistent yorkers nor has the tricks of Bumrah. He relies on his tried and tested formula of swing bowling as he opens the attack for Punjab and looks to bowl it in the right channels and take help of the pitch. It is his brilliant line and length which sets him apart from his counterparts.
Though he may go for runs at times, he backs himself and always looks use his strengths. He has been given the responsibility of bowling one over in the death and has done exceedingly well till now by mustering an economy rate of 6.47.
In Punjab's last game, Sharma produced arguably his best spell in the competition. Delhi Daredevils proved to be Sharma's prey as he destroyed their top order and took four wickets for just 20 runs. He took the scalps of Sam Billings, Sanju Samson, Shreyas Iyer and Kagiso Rabada. He bowled three overs in the powerplay and took three wickets for five runs which included 15 good length deliveries.
It also became his best ever performance in a T20 game where he also caught Iyer with a brilliant one-handed effort which he described, "That was one moment I enjoyed the most." He has bowled more balls in the power play than any other bowler this IPL and also has taken most wickets in the first six overs along with Samuel Badree and Mitchell McLenaghan.
Sharma has been a crucial cog in Punjab's wheels over the years and this season too, whenever he was needed to step up, he came up with the goods. In their first game against RPS, Sharma gave them a perfect start by castling Mayank Agarwal for a duck and then taking Dan Christian's wicket at the end.
Against RCB, he kept it tight and gave away just 26 runs and sent opener Vishnu Vinod back to the dugout. Then he had a small blip against Kolkata as the Knight Riders hammered Punjab and chased down 170 with 8 wickets to spare.
At the Feroz Shah Kotla, Sharma lost his way a bit as he was taken to the cleaners by Delhi's batsmen as he conceded 41 runs in four overs. Though he picked up the wicket of Chris Morris when he was looking dangerous, Sharma never looked confident. Punjab's bad form continued in the next game against SRH as well where Sharma gave away 35 runs but took one wicket in what was a decent comeback after the debacle against Delhi.
Sharma and Kings XI Punjab had another game to forget against an in-form Mumbai Indians side who chased down 200 against them with the 23-year-old giving away runs at a rate of nearly 14 per over. In the next game, Sharma came into his own as it once again proved that Punjab wins games whenever Sharma fires for them from the start.
Against the Gujarat Lions, Sharma took two huge wickets of Brendon Mccullum and Andrew Tye at crucial junctures to help them win the game and have a chance of qualifying for the playoffs. After playing every match for the Kings till then, Sharma was given a rest against SRH after his well-known struggles against the left-handers. The break worked wonders for him in the next match against Delhi as he proved to be the match-winner for Glenn Maxwell and co. with a brilliant haul of 20/4.
All in all, it has been a good tournament for Sandeep Sharma despite his side being inconsistent throughout the run in. If Punjab has any chance of making it to the top four, Sharma needs to shine in his spell.
India's own power play specialist is back with regained confidence and a certain swagger in his run up to make batsmen pay with his late swing and his consistent outside off stump deliveries.