Joginder Sharma @ Getty Images
Joginder Sharma made his One-Day debut in 2004© Getty Images

Joginder Sharma, born October 23, 1983, had immortalised himself with the last over of the final of the ICC World T20 2007. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an Indian hero whose one act became bigger than the man’s career.

Would the Twenty20 (T20) boom have happened in India, had Joginder Sharma failed to pick up Misbah-ul-Haq that day at New Wanderers? For that matter, would the Indian Premier League (IPL) be born in the first place? Would The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) have been the financial superpower of world cricket the way it is now?

We will keep searching for answers. It may have been about one over (or would we call it one ball?), but it was an over that gave India hope after the debacle of World Cup 2007. Rahul Dravid’s men did win a series in England after 21 years, but India needed an extra jolt to get back into action.

With Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, and Dravid all withdrawing from the inaugural World T20 in South Africa, India were in search of a new leader. MS Dhoni was chosen ahead of Yuvraj Singh in a tournament played in a format completely unknown to India. The rookies packed their side with limited-overs all-rounders: Dhoni, Yuvraj, Virender Sehwag, the Pathans (Irfan and the then-unknown Yusuf), and — Joginder.

Who was Joginder Sharma?

Joginder had played four One-Day Internationals (ODIs) till then without being recognised. He made his debut at Chittagong in 2004 in a three-match ODI series with a certain Dhoni. Their paths would cross multiple times in future, though Joginder would never play an ODI under Dhoni.

He picked up Mohammad Ashraful on his debut, and was unbeaten in his two innings, scoring 34 from 24 balls. He was surprisingly dropped, for no apparent reason, and played a solitary ODI a little two years later at Cuttack, as India prepared for the 2007 edition of the World Cup. He scored a solitary run and has not played an ODI since then. This is a bit mysterious, given that India has been on the lookout for a seam-bowling all-rounder, and Joginder has a batting strike rate of 117 and an economy rate of 4.60.  BCCI has strange ways.

The first last over

India went into the first 4 matches with a four-pronged pace attack consisting of RP Singh, S Sreesanth, Ajit Agarkar, and Irfan Pathan. Following India’s defeat against New Zealand, the axe fell on Agarkar (who had conceded 40 from 4 overs); Joginder made his Twenty20 Internationals (T20I) debut at New Wanderers against England.

Following India’s humongous 218 for 4 (Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag, and Yuvraj registered the first, and only till date, instance of 3 fifties in a T20I innings; Yuvraj also famously became the first, and only till date, batsman to hit 6 sixes in an over in a T20I over). England put up a spirited chase but fell short by 18 runs; Joginder took a severe pasting, being hammered for 57 off 4 overs.

Dhoni retained Joginder for the crucial tie against South Africa at Kingsmead, where Joginder did an excellent job, conceding 24 from 4 overs. Led by RP (4-0-13-4), not only did India defend 153, they also stopped South Africa from reaching 126 — the target they needed to reach to make it to the semifinal.

Yuvraj’s brutal 30-ball 70 took India to 188 for 7 against Australia before Matthew Hayden and Adam Gilchrist got them off to a flier. Hayden and Andrew Symonds threatened to take the match away from the Indians, but quick strikes from the Indians and some clueless batting from the Australian middle-order left them with a target of 22 from the final over.

Stranger things have happened in cricket. Michael Hussey, the man supposed to have taken over the mantle of Australia’s greatest finisher from Michael Bevan, was still around. Dhoni had a choice between Sehwag, by then a decent death-bowler, and Joginder, whose first 2 overs had gone for 18 and 13: he went by instinct and chose the latter.

The strategy was simple: try to bowl yorkers and not allowing Hussey any room. Joginder bowled the first ball well outside off. Hussey went for a wild swipe and missed. 22 from 5.

Joginder pitched the next one up as well. This time it was on the stumps, and Hussey — mighty, destructive, reliable Hussey — hit it tamely back to the bowler. 22 from 4.

Joginder ran in. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a good-length ball outside off, but fortunately, Hussey tried to hoick it over long-on. Was it predetermined? We will never know. Yuvraj covered ground and took a good catch at wide long-on to as good as seal the match: Australia were left to score 22 from 3.

Joginder conceded 2 off the next (a low full-toss) before hitting the base of Brett Lee’s leg-stump with the next. 5 balls, 2 runs, 2 wickets: Joginder had sealed the match. The pulled four from Mitchell Johnson off the last ball did not count.

The big last over

Misbah-ul-Haq (right) plays the fatal shot to be caught © Getty Images
Misbah-ul-Haq (right) plays the fatal shot to be caught © Getty Images

 

Could India pull off a miracle in the final at New Wanderers? Sehwag had been ruled out of the final as Yusuf made his debut. Gambhir, in ominous form, scored a 54-ball 75 as India finished on 157 for 5. RP struck two quick blows and Mohammad Hafeez and Younis Khan put up a decent partnership, but eventually things came down to Misbah-ul-Haq and the tail.

A desperate Misbah went after the bowlers, first with Yasir Arafat as company and then Sohail Tanvir. The target kept coming down: 54 from 24 balls; 35 from 18; 20 from 12; 13 from 6. Pakistan had lost Arafat and Tanvir, and also Umar Gul; it had come down to Mohammad Asif. Pakistan were 9 down, but Misbah would be on strike.

Joginder had bowled beautifully till then, conceding 13 off the first 3 overs and taking the wicket of Younis. It was a toss-up between his last over in the previous match and his form and the experience of Harbhajan Singh: Dhoni chose the former. Indians across the globe asked: Joginder had defended 22 off the last over in the semifinal, but could he defend 13? Could he handle the pressure of a major final against Pakistan?

Once again, the plan was to bowl full. Once again, he attempted a yorker outside off. Unfortunately, it was too wide for Mark Benson, who stretched his hands. 12 from 6.

Joginder stuck to the plan. Once again he bowled outside off (it made sense, since Misbah had hit 3 sixes over mid-wicket). Misbah heaved and missed, and Dhoni applauded. 12 from 5.

Misbah had anticipated what was coming; he moved outside off as Joginder ran in; the inexperience showed as Joginder dished out a full-toss, and Misbah’s hit promptly thudded into the sight-screen, bringing Pakistan to their feet. 6 from 4.

There was a pause as everyone waited with baited breath. Dhoni ran up to Joginder. Misbah eyed Sreesanth at fine leg, inside the circle. They all calmed down. Then Joginder ran in.

Misbah had made up his mind: Joginder bowled full, slightly outside off, but Misbah still went with his shot. It was a sure winner, but wait! The ball had acquired more height than distance, and descended to Sreesanth’s hands. Temperament had never been Sreesanth’s forte, but this time he stood still, accepted the gift gleefully, and erupted.

India won the tournament that triggered off a near-unprecedented high that spanned four years. Unfortunately, Joginder was not a part of the journey: he never played another international match.

The forgotten last over

It was World T20 all over again. Picked for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), Joginder had conceded 17 from 3 overs, picking up Sanath Jayasuriya and Dwayne Bravo. Mumbai Indians required 19 off the last over. Dhoni tossed the ball to Joginder — again. Could he do it thrice?

An ominous-looking Abhishek Nayar, then 35 off 15, was on strike. Joginder could not stick to the plan that had worked in South Africa: he bowled short and was pulled for four; it almost cleared the mid-wicket boundary. 15 from 5.

Joginder pitched the next one up, but Nayar was equal to the task. The ball soared over extra-cover and reached the fence. The pressure was surely on Joginder now: could he defend 11 from 4?

It could have been the mounting tension, but Joginder overstepped. To everyone’s surprise, Nayar played to point and ran for a single, leaving Ashish Nehra to face the ball for the free-hit. 9 from 4 was anybody’s game…

But Joginder had somehow got his rhythm back. It was the usual yorker outside off; Nehra did his best, but it was too good for him. 9 needed from 3 balls.

Joginder unleashed another yorker. This time Nehra could somehow get a bat to it as Nayar ran frantically to reach the other end. 8 from 2.

Would Joginder lose his nerve? Could he contain Nayar? Would he bowl another yorker? He did, and Nayar could only dig it out to cover. The last ball went for a single to long-off. Joginder had managed to seal it again.

Early days

Born in Rohtak, Joginder earned a reputation as an fierce hitter with supreme disdain for the MCC coaching manual and an accurate medium-paced bowler. After having a good stint for Haryana Under-16s, Under-19s, and Under-22s, he broke through to the Ranji Trophy side in 2002-03. His initial year fetched him 280 runs at 46.66 and 24 wickets at 17.41.

He made it to the Rest of India side soon afterwards, but really made his mark in a match for India A against India Seniors at Chinnaswamy in 2004-05. He finished with 3 for 42, but the wickets included those of Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Yuvraj. He followed this with 139 against Tripura at Agartala and 106 not out against Goa at Gurgaon in consecutive innings (he also took 3 for 30 and 6 for 48 in the second match). Outstanding figures of 8 for 24 and 6 for 92 against Vidarbha at Nagpur followed, and Joginder made it to India’s tour of Bangladesh, mentioned above.

It was surprising that Joginder had earned a recall to the limited-overs side based on an excellent First-Class season. Perhaps they had wanted a seam-bowling all-rounder. Joginder had an outstanding season in 2006-07, when he scored 603 at 37.68 with 2 hundreds and picked up 45 wickets at 19.24 with 2 five-fors and 2 ten-fors. The finest of these performances came at his hometown, where he bowled unchanged to skittle Uttar Pradesh for 71 and return figures of 7 for 28.

Joginder continued to play for CSK in the IPL till 2011. Later that year he met with a terrible car accident where he faced a serious head injury, and a fracture. He missed a season, but roared back to mainstream cricket with a composed 65 and 2 wickets against Uttar Pradesh at Lucknow.

He continues to play for Haryana. At the time of writing this article, his numbers read 2,606 First-Class runs from 66 matches at 26.86 in addition to 267 wickets at 21.47 — impressive by any standard. His penchant for historic matches continued when he turned up for Haryana against Mumbai in Tendulkar’s last Ranji Trophy outing at Lahli: a spell of 11-5-16-5 help bowl out the tourists for 136, but Tendulkar turned out to be more than a handful in the fourth innings.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Deputy Editor and Cricket Historian at CricketCountry. He blogs here and can be followed on Twitter here.)