India made a concerted effort to revamp their batting approach in T20 cricket after taking a hard look at themselves in the aftermath of the 2021 World Cup, where they exited in the first round itself. An overhaul was the need of the hour. The top-order had been risk-averse while finishing kicks were in short supply with Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja not operating at full throttle due to their respective injuries. Dinesh Karthik remodeled his game to cater to India’s demand for hyperspecialist finishers, a cadre that Jitesh Sharma fits right in thanks to his exploits at the death for Vidarbha and Punjab Kings.
234 runs in 12 innings at a strike rate of 163.6 in IPL 2022 convinced Punjab Kings into retaining Jitesh ahead of the auction this year. He continued to propel team totals and close out chases with his range-hitting caliber, scoring 224 in ten games at a strike rate of 175 in the previous edition of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Such consistency in what is the most ardous role in the format kept Jitesh in the reckoning, and a knee injury to Sanju Samson led to his call-up as cover for the remainder of the T20I series against Sri Lanka.
In an exclusive interview with Gargi Raut of OneCricket, Jitesh spoke about his progression through the ranks, the transition from Mumbai Indians to Punjab Kings, and the technical and tactical aspects of his development.
‘When MI picked me, I was one of the top run-getters in Syed Mushtaq Ali, and that’s why I was picked, but MI had three other wicket-keepers, namely Jos Buttler, Parthiv Patel and Nicholas Puran, so I knew my chances of getting a debut were rare. And I used to bat at the top order, which made them even slim,” Jitesh observed. ”But I grabbed the opportunity well, gained wisdom from the seniors in the team and made sure I applied it well in the next SMA Trophy. So I explored my game and came in as a middle-order batsman this IPL. It was a good jump because I learnt a lot.”
Whereas Jitesh was surplus to requirements at MI, Kings gave him the backing and opportunities to showcase his talent. He warmed up to skipper Mayank Agarwal, with enthusiasm running as the common thread in their personalities. ”Mayank and I got along pretty well because we’re quite similar on the field; we love to bring the energy. ”Your attitude, energy and intent should always be positive” is something he always says, and I love that about him. His energy is always aggressive on the field,” Jitesh noted.
Jitesh may have to wait for his international debut as Rahul Tripathi, a part of India’s travelling continent for a dozen matches now, is ahead in the pecking order and likely to replace Samson. But should he get a chance later on, does Jitesh envision himself dealing with the slog overs? ”I usually don’t think that far ahead in the future. I focus on the game on hand. So if I come upon an opportunity to finish a game, I only think about how I will do that, be it for India or my state team,” he offers. Carpe diem, as they say.