For the first time, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) will field both their men's and women's teams at the Asian Games, which will be held in Hangzhou, China from September 23 to October 8. However, due to a scheduling conflict with the Men's Cricket World Cup, starting at home on October 5, the BCCI is sending a B squad led by Ruturaj Gaikwad. This squad includes talented players like Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, Rinku Singh, Jitesh Sharma, among others.
In an exclusive interview with The Free Press Journal, Jitesh Sharma, who will be handling wicketkeeping duties and playing the role of a finisher, expressed his excitement about representing India at the Asian Games. He stated, "It's an honour to get a chance to represent India at the Asian Games. It's different from other series and tournaments. Everyone on the team is enthusiastic about winning the gold medal and adding to India's tally."
When asked if he was expecting a call-up for the Games, Sharma said, '"Given that all the seniors will be participating in the World Cup, the selection was expected." Speaking about the team, he said, "It's a strong team with a capable leader like Ruturaj. Players like Rinku Singh, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Tilak Varma, Avesh Khan, and many others have represented the country, so it's not an inexperienced squad. I might be the only one who hasn't worn the India colors yet (he laughs)."
21 sixes in IPL 2023
Having started his IPL career with the Mumbai Indians in 2016, it is with the Punjab Kings that Sharma found his footing over the last two seasons, showcasing his hitting prowess lower down the order. In the 2022 season, the Amravati-born lad scored 234 runs at an amazing strike rate of 163.24. In the recently concluded 2023 season, he further impressed everyone by amassing 309 runs at a strike rate of 156.06. Notably, Jitesh grabbed the spotlight with his exceptional power-hitting this season, smashing an impressive tally of 21 long sixes, which left former cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Suresh Raina in awe.
“I stuck to my process even after not getting picked”
Sharma was initially picked by the Mumbai Indians in 2016 but did not get the opportunity to play any matches. Subsequently, in 2017, he was dropped from the team. For the following four years, he did not participate in the IPL until the Punjab side acquired him at the auction for ₹20 lakh. Throughout the period of his absence from the tournament, he remained committed to his process and found support from his family and friends. "My friends and family have been incredibly positive and supportive, especially my brother. It was a learning phase for me. I saw it as an opportunity to grow and worked on myself both mentally and physically," he shared.
“I never think about competition”
Sharma, who initially began his career as an opener for Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy, seamlessly transitioned to batting in the middle order. Later on, his remarkable power-hitting performances in the IPL during the death overs caught the attention of the selectors, earning him a spot in the Indian team for the T20 series against Sri Lanka. However, he did not get an opportunity to play due to the fierce competition within the Indian team, where several players were vying for the same position as him. Reflecting on this, Sharma shares, "I never dwell on competition. One advantage I possess is my ability to hit left-arm spinners with the same ease as I smash right-arm spinners. Additionally, I provide the captain with an extra advantage by fulfilling the wicket-keeping duties."
“My focus is on personal growth each day”
With the upcoming T20 World Cup set to take place in 2024, there are expected to be alterations in the batting line-up. Sharma, who is being considered for a spot in the squad, acknowledges the areas where the Indian team needs improvement, particularly in their batting during the death overs. However, he emphasises that he doesn't obsess about the selection process. The cricketer states, "I have a clear understanding of the areas where the Indian team lacks, such as batting in the death overs. But I don't overly concern myself with selection. My focus is on personal growth each day. The opportunity to represent India can arise at any moment, and I believe in staying prepared.”
“Wasn’t interested in cricket, I wanted to go in defence”
Cricket was not Sharma's initial passion. He had a strong inclination towards playing football and aspired to pursue a career in defense. However, fate had a different path laid out for him. He shares, "A friend informed me that playing for the state team would earn me 25 marks in the board exams. Intrigued, I decided to try out for the school team. It was during this time that I also began wicketkeeping. Fortunately, in my very first year, I played for the state team and then made it to the U19 as well. From that point on, there was no looking back."
Sharma's love for Pune’s Ganeshotsav
Jiesh Sharma at Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple in Pune |
"I am a devout follower of Lord Ganesha and regularly visit the Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple in Pune almost every month. During Ganeshotsav, I make it a point to come to the city to seek blessings from the manache ganpatis. However, I have never had the opportunity to attend the visarjan miravnuk. Unfortunately, I won't be able to visit Pune this year due to my preparations for the Asian Games at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) in Bengaluru," he mentioned.