Sandeep Sharma © PTI
Sandeep Sharma impressed a lot of people with his pronounced swing and movement off the pitch © PTI

Sandeep Sharma is not a tall, brawny and alarmingly quick fast-bowler. He has a decent run-up, bowls close to the 130 kmph mark, and has a tendency to pick up wickets. The 21-year-old boy from Patiala has impressed everyone with his ability to swing the ball freely.

Sandeep was a part of the squad that won the ICC U-19 World Cup 2012, but he rose to prominence during the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2014. He was the wrecker-in-chief for the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) as he bowled some probing deliveries which left the batsmen playing a guessing game.

His big chance came after IPL when he was named in the India A squad for the tour to Australia, but then came the big blow. He picked up an injury, and was forced out of the tour. As a result of the injury, he is also absent from the KXIP campaign in the ongoing Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2014.

In an exclusive interview with Varun Arora, he speaks about his journey from a small town in Punjab to helping India lift the U-19 World Cup in Australia.

CricketCountry (CC): Have you recovered from the injury you suffered three months ago? Do you think the injury came at a wrong time for you?

Sandeep Sharma (SS): I got a stress fracture in my back when I was attending a camp at National Cricket academy (NCA), Bangalore with the India A team. I was completely off from cricket for three months, and I spent time with my family, watched movies and watched cricket on TV during that period. Currently, I’m back to NCA after three long months and I have started bowling slowly. I will be spending three weeks on rehabilitation before I go back to Patiala and start playing some cricket. Yes, I would have played Champions League T20 (CLT20) 2014 and would have been part of India A tour of Australia and maybe I would have also got a chance to play for India.

CC: Do you miss being part of the CLT20? Can Kings XI Punjab (KXIP) make it this time?

SS: I met my team in Mohali and I really miss that environment. I think I could have been there but then I back myself to recover and come back soon. KXIP is a very good team and they have a good chance of winning. Even if the opposition gets to 200 runs, we can easily get it as we a very strong batting line-up.

CC: How has IPL experience helped you evolve as a cricketer and a bowler?

SS: IPL has helped me a lot and I learnt a lot playing in the two seasons. It is nice to be with senior players like Viru Paaji (Virender Sehwag) and George Bailey. Before that we had Adam Gilchrist in the team. They mix very well, and I felt very protected in the team as these senior players including the support staff helped youngsters like me and always supported us. IPL didn’t help me with my bowling, but it has helped me to get mentally tough, and has shaped my personality. I learned how to carry myself and how to prepare myself to perform better.

CC: How has life changed after IPL?

SS: There is a lot of money in cricket in our country. Even if you are playing only Ranji Trophy you earn a lot. I have a car now and I’m also constructing a new house. Everybody recognizes me and come to clicks pictures with me. I feel very happy.  I have watched the senior players getting so much limelight and now when I get the same it feels very good.

CC: Who is the toughest player you have every bowled to?

SS: I think Suresh Raina is a tough batsman to bowl at. I remember bowling to him during the IPL semi-finals. He was hitting every ball and it was difficult to bowl to him. It was really a tough time (laughs).

CC: What is it like bowling to Glenn Maxwell and David Miller in the nets?

SS: They both are really good players. When we usually have a net session everyone experiments and tries new things, so you don’t really get to see the original thing in nets. But bowling Viru Paaji is the biggest achievement as I have been watching him since my early days and he has always been my favorite. The opportunity to watch him, share the same dressing room and talking on different subjects during the IPL was priceless.

CC: How was the U-19 World Cup experience?

SS: U-19 World Cup victory is the best part of my life. As a cricketer I cherish that time a lot and miss all those moments I spent enjoying with my team-mates.  It is the so far the biggest achievement of my life as that led me to Ranji Trophy and IPL. I give it a lot of importance in my life.

CC: How did you start your journey as a fast bowler?

SS: I belong from a middle class family and I studied in a government school in Patiala. I often played with my friends in our school ground then one day the school coach noticed me and he picked me up for the school team. I was a batsman during the early days and only used to bowl as a part-timer. Then one day during our school match at Dhruv Pandove Stadium, Munish Bali Sir saw me and asked me to come for the U-15 districts trials. When I appeared for the trials I didn’t get a chance to bat so I had to bowl there. When he saw my bowling he liked my wrist position and told me that I could become a very good seamer. I started bowling then and slowly I played the inter-districts and kept getting selected further.

CC: Did the swing and movement come naturally to you or you learned it?

SS: I was an out-swing bowler before, but I had a lot of pain in my back so I had to change my action, and then I became an in-swing bowler. I have learned and mastered the art of swing, it’s not natural. I had learned it under Munish Sir in Punjab Cricket Association (PCA), Mohali and Bharat Arun, who is our coach at NCA. I have followed a technique which has helped me to develop over a period of time.

CC: You have been successful with the new ball but how do you bowl with the old ball?

SS: I bowl quite well with the old bowl as well. A lot of good bowlers go for runs in IPL but my average is fourth best in IPL. I spoke about bowling in the death overs to Lakshmipathy Balaji who has played a lot of T20 matches and has got lot of variation. But I believe I’m still quite young and I’m not worried about this. I’m learning slowly and I believe I will get good soon. . I also had a long chat with Mitchell Johnson during the IPL and he gave me a lot of tips to improve mental strength, tackle pressure situation and stop the flow of runs.

CC: Any special moment you remember from your early days?

SS: I used to go for practice on my bicycle and some players came on cars and then I used to think that one day I’ll also go in my own car. And today I go on my own car so I remember that moment a lot. I feel really happy and proud that hard work and dedication has brought me here.

CC: Do you watch Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Praveen Kumar who fall in the same league?

SS: I watch Bhuvneshwar Kumar bowl as he has earned a lot of success. He is a similar type of bowler and watching him I try to implement few good things in my bowling too.

CC: Do you have hopes of getting selected in the ICC World Cup 2015?

SS: I hope that I can make it to the ICC World Cup 2015 squad. But my first priority is to get fit and get back to the field. If start performing well again, I’m sure I’ll get selected for the team.

CC:  What have you planned for the upcoming domestic season and what are Punjab’s chances this time in the Ranji Trophy?

SS: I’m not preparing for anything at this moment. The domestic season is far away, my first priority is to achieve a good fitness level. Well, Punjab has been doing well for the last two years. We have done well to get to the semi-finals but have lost the way in crucial ties. One bad match spoiled it all both times so we hope this time we hold our nerves when we go down to the final stages.

(Varun Arora is a reporter with CricketCountry.com. He started as a medium-fast bowler, converted to an opening batsman but finally settled with his passion of writing about the game. His Twitter handle is @varunjgd)