By Bhavesh Bhimani
Mohit Sharma burst onto the scene with an impressive performance at the Indian Premiere League (IPL), 2013 for the Chennai Super Kings. Before that, he had already made his mark during the Ranji Trophy.
Playing for Haryana, he emerged as one of the best bowlers of the tournament with 37 wickets in eight matches. It was that performance that caught the eye of the Chennai think tank and they drafted him in.
Little was known about this youngster when he was picked by Chennai and not many expected him to shine. Mohit, though surprised everyone with his performance in the tournament. It was the simple, composed and measured approach to his bowling that impressed one and all.
His stock inswingers troubled the likes of David Warner, Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh. Mohit was also skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s go-to man in the powerplay overs; bowling economically and accounting for prized scalps.
All of 5 feet 11 inches in height, Mohit may not have the ideal build for a fast bowler but makes up for it with his big heart. Added to that is his nagging line and length, the sense of playing to his strengths and his ability to remain calm under pressure. Looking at this package, the Indian selectors had no hesitation in including him in the Indian team for the tour to Zimbabwe. Mohit justified his selection by churning a man-of-the-match performance on debut to rattle Zimbabwe with a spell of two for 26.
Being only 24-years-old, there is still a long way to go for Mohit, but he has certainly made the right moves so far. Moreover he has also raised hopes for Indian cricket’s fast-bowling future. In this exclusive interview with CricketCountry, Mohit speaks much like the way he is — simple and straight. He talks about his debut series, playing under Dhoni, the condition of the Indian pitches and much more.
Cricket Country (CC): Though you played only two One-Day Internationals (ODIs), how was the experience of the recent Zimbabwe tour?
Mohit Sharma (MS): It was a very enriching and learning experience. The fact that I got the chance to play for my country was in itself an honour. Since it was my debut tour, I will cherish the moments and memories throughout my life.
CC: What were your feelings when you took the field on your debut against Zimbabwe?
MS: Obviously, I was quite nervous when I took the field. I was after all representing my country for the first time and hence I had butterflies in my stomach. I also believe that a little bit of nervousness is good in a way. It helps you stay focused and composed. The butterflies in my tummy did help me enhance my performance actually.
CC: Did it affect you that you were making your debut against a relatively inexperienced side like Zimbabwe?
MS: See, according to me, in cricket there cannot be anyone who is big or small. Anyone can shine on their day. My concern was not the opposition that I was playing against, but to only focus on my strengths. The fact that I was getting a chance to represent my country was the biggest possible motivation. I thus wanted to give my 110 percent and enjoy the experience.
CC: Tell us how you took interest in cricket?
MS: Like a million other people in the country, my interest in cricket too started right from my childhood. I used to play with tennis balls in my early teens in the small lanes of Ballabhgarh, Haryana. Those were really good days. I thoroughly enjoyed playing with my friends and it gradually became a passion. And surprisingly, my family supported me a lot in realizing this dream. They never scolded me when I used to play cricket and never told me to concentrate on studies alone. They understood that cricket was a passion and were happy to support me in whatever way possible.
CC: Who have been your mentors? And what impact they have had on your life?
MS: There are quite a few people who have played important roles in shaping my career. The first is Vijay Yadav, under whom I have been training for the last 10-12 years. He has not only helped me develop my cricketing skills, but has also groomed me as a person. He has been there like a friend through the tough phases of my life.
Then there is Ashwini Kumar, Haryana’s coach. He has played a huge role in my success in the Ranji Trophy. His guidance helped me a lot in dealing with the different pressure situations.
However, the one person who has had the greatest impact on my life has to be Anirudh Chaudhary, the secretary of the Haryana Cricket Association (HCA). I believe whatever I am today, or whatever little success I have achieved thus far couldn’t have been possible without him. He has taken care of me like a family member. Even during my toughest times, he was always there and would keep motivating me to work hard and achieve my goal. He has had a massive impact on my career.
CC: Your physiotherapist Amit Tyagi (of the Haryana Ranji team) too seems to have had a great influence on your career. Can you please elaborate?
MS: Indeed, he has had a major role in making me fit. I am quite injury prone and Tyagi sir was the one who really understood the strengths and weaknesses of my body and helped me attain a proper fitness level. After the Ranji Trophy got over this year, I worked under him for close to two months. It helped me stay fit through the entire IPL season. Even now he is the one who monitors my fitness regularly and I am lucky to have him around me always.
CC: You have impressed everyone with your tight bowling in the powerplay overs during the IPL? What was the secret behind it?
MS: A lot of effort goes into it really. Dhoni bhai used to create match situations during our practice sessions before a game. We would then bowl according to the various situations which could arise in a match. For example, I would often be made to bowl when there would only be two fielders outside the circle. Then we would bowl to a scenario where the batsmen would go for the slog sweeps. These practice sessions were rigorous and really helped a lot during the actual matches.
CC: Your average bowling speed is around 130-135 kmph. Are you satisfied with it or do you think it would serve you well if you can add an extra yard of pace?
MS: I am working on a lot of areas in my bowling and adding a bit of pace is certainly on the agenda. I recently averaged close to 135 kmph. It would be good if I can get close to the 140s. However, only adding pace will not help. I am learning and constantly trying to think of ways to improve my bowling. There is a long way to go.
CC: What according to you are your strengths?
MS: I would say my line and length. I guess that is something I am good at. Moreover, I never try to think too much and just focus on things that are in my control. I like to keep things simple and just concentrate on my strengths. Another area of my bowling that I think is decent is my stock delivery, the in-swinger. Whenever I get the new ball, I try and swing it as much as possible.
CC: Pitches in India aren’t generally fast-bowler friendly. Seamers are known to go for plenty. How do you prepare yourself mentally before going into a match?
MS: I actually think our Indian pitches have improved a lot over the last few years. They do help seamers like me a lot. If you have a close look at our domestic circuit and the pitches on which the matches are played, the situation has changed. The pitches are of extremely good quality.
However, to answer your question, one does have to prepare mentally before going into match and having a feel of the wicket. If the pitch is assisting the seamers, then it makes things easier for us. But when the wicket is a little placid, we have to stay within our limitations. I for one just try and focus on the basics rather than experiment too much in such situations.
CC: You were amongst the highest wicket-takers in the Ranji Trophy 2012-13 (37 wickets in eight games), and then also excelled during the IPL (20 wickets in 15 matches). Both these tournaments are domestic affairs. According to you, what was the basic difference between the two?
MS: There is a huge difference. IPL is a T20 format and the matches get over in about three hours. Ranji matches on the other hand continue for four days and you have to be at your best throughout. It is a test of your concentration, willpower and focus — which is definitely very challenging and demanding. That is not to say though that T20 is easy; it has its own challenges. Here we have to adapt to different match situations; like bowling with the new ball and then at the death. That too can be very tough.
However I believe that as a cricketer I have to be prepared for all the three formats; Tests, ODIs and T20s. You have to be mentally and physically fit to accept the challenges that the three formats present.
CC: How was your experience of playing for the Chennai Super Kings? Did you ever feel left out in the sea of giant names in their ranks?
MS: It has been an extremely enjoyable learning experience. I feel blessed to have got the chance to play in such a wonderful team, which is full of skillful players. The entire squad was like one big family. Be it the practice sessions or the real matches; all the players would support each other constantly. Dhoni, Suresh Raina, Michael Hussey and all the others gave me a lot of encouragement and support. They never treated me as their junior; in fact the entire team never had that ‘big team’ aura around them. Even off the field, we would always spend time together. This helped in easing out any pressure that I felt initially.
CC: You must have been asked this question many times, but how was the experience of playing under Dhoni?
MS: I consider myself very fortunate for getting the chance to play under Mahi bhai. I guess it must be every cricketer’s dream in our country to be playing under his leadership. He is so calm and composed, which is unbelievable. The T20 format is so fast and yet he never loses his cool. He used to guide me through the pressure situations and help me feel calm and cool. These are things that I have learnt from him and which I know will help me a great deal in my future; not only in my cricket but also in my life.
CC: Is there any role model you have had in your life whom you follow?
MS: I can’t call him my role model but I definitely like Dale Steyn a lot. I like his approach and passion towards the game. He is most certainly an inspiration for me.
CC: Who has been the toughest batsman you bowled to?
MS: It would have to be Sachin Tendulkar. He is a legend and one of my heroes. It was almost surreal bowling to him. It was undoubtedly challenging but also like a dream come true — a moment I shall cherish throughout my life.
CC: Of all the dismissals you have effected, which one has been the most memorable?
MS: I would say Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh — whom I dismissed in the IPL. They are great players especially in the shorter format of the game and getting them out was a big achievement for me.
CC: What would you say has been your best cricketing moment so far?
MS: Undoubtedly, it has to be my selection to the Indian team. The day my name was announced in the squad, I wasn’t even aware of the fact that the team was supposed to be selected. I was busy practicing when I got calls from my friends saying I had been named in the squad. It was a feeling that I can never describe in words. I was numb with happiness. Every cricketer aspires to pay for his/her country and it was an amazing feeling to have that dream realized.
CC: So what is your next and immediate goal?
MS: I do not think too far ahead of myself. My only goal currently is to keep myself fit. The rest I leave it to destiny. Whatever has to happen will happen. I just want to put all my energy in enjoying the game and learning from it.