“Ballet is a passion, an addiction, a sometime obsession, a lifestyle, a discipline, an art. It is never a hobby”

Sandeep Sharma’s bowling action has been always been rhythmic. The run up is classical; he starts running in with a gentle bend and gradually straightens his upper body. The transition to the delivery stride is fluent. And the follow through happens with ease. As he delivers the ball his upright wrists create magic. The seam points the desired direction, curves in the air and that is what makes the difference.  Watching him in this IPL makes you fall for his passion for swing bowling, an addiction almost. An obsession sometimes as well when he still pitches it up hoping for some swing on flat batting wickets that costs him. Swing bowling is almost a lifestyle for Sandeep, a discipline he has persisted with, more so the fluid movement of the ball is an art. It is much more than a hobby.

While looking to defend a total of 139 against RCB in front of a desperate crowd at Chinnaswamy, with Gayle, Kohli and De Villiers in the opponents’ top order is a herculean task. In such a scenario ideally, you want wickets at the top. You need to strike with the new ball.

For long enough in this IPL, fast bowlers have been good bowlers only because of their skills with the old ball. Jasprit Bumrah made a mockery of a super over when power hitters like Brendon Mccullum and Aron Finch just managed to get bat on the ball only two out the six balls they faced.  Both of those shots were singles to long off. Siddharth Kaul for SRH has been constantly finishing games for his team because of his ability to bowl Yorkers. Another SRH hero and the tournament’s purple cap holder Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has nailed the Yorkers perfectly. Not just Yorkers, reverse swinging Yorkers as well. Even the overseas bowlers like Andrew Tye are relying on Yorkers and the knuckle ball. Fast bowlers seemed to be obsessed with the change of pace. You don’t blame them either. But the point is except Bhuvaneshwar Kumar in the above list nobody else has looked to swing the new ball. Nobody but Sandeep Sharma.

So we get back to RCB’s run chase. In his first over itself, Sandeep Sharma struck gold. After being beaten off his first ball, in his second ball, Chris Gayle took a couple steps, had a tentative push at an away swinger and the outside edge carried to Martin Guptill at backward point. The universe boss left the arena quietly, again. In at number three was RCB’s skipper Virat Kohli. Kohli anticipated the swing, got in the line of the ball and flicked it past the short fine-leg fielder for a boundary. The final ball of the over Kohli found the gap in the midwicket region and picked up a couple of runs. Even after getting a wicket, Sandeep Sharma looked dejected while collecting his cap from the umpire after the end of his over.

Sandeep Sharma in action. Image courtesy: Cricinfo

When the second over was in progress, the cameras panned towards Sandeep Sharma who was fielding on the boundary. He was shadowing the flick shot as a right-handed batsman. Weird isn’t it? I mean Punjab are done with their batting. Sandeep Sharma is a new ball bowler he should be thinking about his bowling and not shadow practicing the flick.

In the words of the great Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar “You know you’re playing well when you’re playing from the opposite end as well,” which means to beat the opponent you need to get into their mind first. A batsman needs to know what the bowler is most likely to deliver and hence be prepared for it. Perhaps Sandeep shadowing that flick understood that the balls he bowled to Virat Kohli in the last over were a touch too full. Full enough to play that shot with the swing into his pads. In his second over Sandeep Sharma pulled his length back a little. This one pitched on off –middle had a hint of in-swing but because it was good length delivery Kohli was forced to dance down the track to meet the ball. He missed the ball. The ball dislodged the furniture and King Kohli had fallen to Sandeep Sharma for the fifth time.  Perhaps even that single shot from Virat Kohli summarizes RCB’s disappointing campaign so far.

Gayle and Kohli are done. AB De Villiers started a counter attack in Sandeep Sharma’s third over a straight drive four to an overpitched delivery. Then he smashed a six to a short ball. The next ball was the perfect length, the good length. De Villiers just like Kohli advanced down the pitched, played the short away from his body, this one swung away from him, caught the outside edge and Wridhiman Shah took it comfortably.

Sandeep Sharma became the first bowler ever, to dismiss Chris Gayle, Virat Kohli and AB DE Villiers in the same match. That too for just 16 runs combined. He finished with figures of 4-0-22-3. He now has 14 wickets in this tournament, 9 out which are top order batsmen. As it turned out RCB never recovered from these early blows and fell 19 short of the target. King XI Punjab defended the lowest total at Bangalore to keep their playoff hopes alive. For RCB it has been that kind of a tournament where their star-studded batting line-up has miss fired again and again.

Apart from the swing may be Sandeep Sharma’s success has something do with his lack of pace as well. It is what we call dibbly- dobblies. A pace which easily entices the batsman to use his feet and dominate the blower who doesn’t poses any physical threat. All three batsmen looked to use their feet but the swing, the good length and the accuracy from Sandeep Sharma won the day for his side.

Four years ago Sandeep Sharma came into the limelight when he made the new ball talk in the ICC Under-19 tournament in Australia. His 4 wicket haul against the hosts in the final had him an overnight sensation. If you haven’t watched it, even if you have, still YouTube it. Australian opening batsman Jimmy Pierson shouldering arms to an in-swinger that crashed into his off stump is a treat to watch. Not so much for Jimmy but for the rest of us it is.

After receiving his consecutive man of the match award Sandeep Sharma said: “ My coach Viru pa (Virender Sehwag ) said my strength lies in swinging the ball, hence he advised me to pitch the ball up.”  Nothing about Sehwag is complicated. That will resonate in ways how he guides his players off the field. Swing bowling isn’t that simple though. It is not easy. Had it been it would have been called a cutter and ballet would have been called football.

Written by Babasish Nanda

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