Jitesh Sharma fast emerging as a dependable middle-order batter

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It’s not always that one is able to outshine England’s hard-hitter Liam Livingstone in a match. On Saturday, at the Wankhede Stadium, Punjab Kings’ wicketkeeper-batter Jitesh Sharma was in smashing form as he clobbered the Rajasthan Royals bowlers for his unbeaten 38 off just 18 balls.

Though Punjab Kings still ended up losing the match despite scoring a competitive 189/5 batting first, effort-wise Jitesh Sharma’s hurricane knock, embellished with four boundaries and two huge sixes at a strike rate in excess of 210, put to shade the efforts of his senior compatriot from England.

Sharma has emerged as a dependable middle-order batter for Punjab Kings, having scored 162 runs in nine matches at an average of 32-plus and a healthy strike-rate of 167, which puts him in the category of hard-hitters in the death overs, provided not many wickets have crumbled.

The 28-year-old Sharma credited his good batting performance this season to the backing of the PBKS team management and his Vidarbha coach.

“I think I am very lucky to have the full backing of the association (Vidarbha) I play for. My coach there, Pritam Gandhe, has supported me a lot. This is the first time I am playing in the middle order,” Sharma, who was primarily an opener until less than a year ago, said.

“I am very lucky that I got picked to play at Punjab Kings too. The first day when I was here, Anil (Kumble) sir had given me my role. He backed me 100 per cent for my preparation and practice to ensure my responsibility is fulfilled,” Sharma added.

“So, I was very confident about my preparation and the conversations with the captain Mayank Agarwal and the coach have given me a lot of faith in my abilities,” added Sharma.

On what went wrong in the game against Rajasthan on Saturday, Sharma said that the bowling could have been more incisive.

“It is a little about momentum. We batted well and the momentum we built early on in the innings, we carried it through as we batted, and ticked all the boxes in this department. In bowling, however, we could not hold onto the breakthroughs. The runs kept flowing even when a couple of wickets fell. We probably took a hit here.”

He felt that Punjab put enough runs on the board, adding that chasing 190 even while batting second is a difficult task.

Rajasthan Royals managed to reach the target with two balls to spare after openers Yashasvi Jaiswal (68) and Jos Buttler (30) had given the early push.

“How much ever you put up on the scoreboard, you’re bound to feel it is less. Even if you score 200, you would wish to have 210 on board. I think this (189) is not too bad a score on this wicket. While chasing, 190 is always difficult to get. I’d say it was a good score,” Sharma added.

Punjab Kings now have three more matches to play in the IPL group stage that will decide their fate for the playoffs.

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