In December last year, Sandeep Sharma was disheartened after none of the 10 teams bid for him at the auction. His good friend Karanveer Singh advised him to keep working hard and wait for the next opportunity. And it came soon. Rajasthan Royals named him as replacement for their injured pacer Prasidh Krishna. Cut to night of April 12 in Chennai, Sandeep was bowling to MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja in this high-pressured IPL 2023 clash. He was asked to defend 21 off last 6 balls, in front of a packed Chennai crowd, who were cheering their ‘Thala’ Dhoni. The next three balls were not going to make it easy for Sandeep.
Wide, Dot, Six, Six. Dhoni, at 41, reminded everyone he had not forgotten about finishing games. Sandeep walks back to the run-up to bowl the fourth ball of this crucial over. Sanju Samson, RR captain, raced from wicketkeeper spot to the bowler. With just 7 required off 3, and Dhoni, the GOAT finisher on strike, it looked like CSK would reach home. But Sandeep had not given up yet. He was not going to play IPL this year. In the first match, he was fearing leaking 21 off the last over to lose a game for his franchise. He was not going to let it go without a fight.
How Sanju Samson’s calm head helped Sandeep
The calm Sanju, Sandeep says, helped him regain his confidence. Speaking to Zee News English over the phone, Sandeep recalled the last 3 balls, underlining the importance of Sanju’s captaincy in that tough moment.
“After I was hit for two sixes in the last over, Sanju and I discussed about the plans on how to bowl the next 3 balls. Sanju is very calm as captain. He did not give any suggestion to me. He simply asked me about my plans for the next ball. I told him about my instincts and he backed me to bowl that. This quality is very rare in a captain in such pressure situation,” said the RR pacer.
Sandeep added that Sanju gave him the freedom to bowl whatever he wanted to bowl even after getting smashed for two back to back sixes. “I have played under many captains and only a few can take such brave calls. Generally captains look to talk a lot, pass on many ideas and suggestions. The way Sanju handled the situation helped me a lot in that moment,” recalled Sandeep.
The fourth ball to Dhoni; 7 needed off 3
Sandeep knew that Dhoni had positioned himself for a yorker now. He was deep in the crease, eyeing the same mid-wicket to long-on region. The pacer decided to change his length and angle. “I had bowled yorker earlier but Mahi bhai was now positioning himself to play yorker only. I came round the wicket and bowled length. He played for the yorker but the ball was pithed on good length and with no space to adjust, he hit it to mid-wicket for a single,” Sandeep said.
The fifth ball to Jadeja; 6 needed off 2
Jadeja was back in crease. He had hit Jason Holder for two sixes in the previous over, one over fine leg and the other straight down the ground. Sandeep did not want to repeat the mistakes of Holder in this over. “Jaddu bhai had hit Holder in the previous over straight down the ground as the ball was bowled at the stumps. I decided to bowl it outside off from over the wicket, bowl at the seventh stump line so that ball is out of his reach. And it worked,” said Sandeep.
The sixth and decisive ball to Dhoni; 5 needed off 1
With CSK one big hit away and Dhoni on strike, it seemed Dhoni was going to get the job done. He had done it so many times in the past that even a difficult task of hitting six off the last ball seemed a very likely happening with Dhoni on strike. Sandeep had to try his best ball on this last, decisive delivery. His yorker.
Family comes first. Because you’ll smile ear-to-ear even when you’ve got no clue your dad’s bowling a last-over to Dhoni in a T20, but he’s on TV so it doesn’t matter!! ,pic.twitter.com/pRZXlDoXUk
— Rajasthan Royals (@rajasthanroyals) April 13, 2023
“On the sixth ball, I went round the wicket to Mahi bhai and this time I backed my yorker, on which I have been working for a long time. I felt that even I am going to get hit for six, let it be this ball on which I have more control after having worked on it over a period of time. This was my best ball and it turned out to be perfect yorker luckily,” Sandeep concluded.
There was a finisher at Chepauk on that night. Just that the name was not Dhoni. It was Sandeep Sharma. The pacer, who was ignored in the bidding room, had made a statement by showing immense belief in himself.