Audacious Ashutosh leaves

Brave Ashutosh makes another impression

“Mujhe khud pe poorabelieftha ke main toh kar doonga, jab tak main khel raha tha.”(While I was there, I thought I could pull this off with ease).It’s no secret that Ashutosh Sharma was full of boldness on Thursday.

Ashutosh had been stunning opponents with his power hitting at the end of games for the previous four, but his early IPL career reached its zenith when he slog-swept Jasprit Bumrah for a six while leading Punjab Kings to yet another comeback victory. Even after yet another tight loss for his team, he smiles when he talks about his “dream shot off Bumrah”—whether it was the licence of a free-hit that inspired him to attempt it or the confidence that came from having practiced it numerous times in the net. Knowing he’s done it “against the world’s best bowler”, he smiled confidently right after the ball soared across to the backward square leg stands.

Bumrah’s threat in the PowerPlay caused him to assume responsibility as early as the tenth over, pushing PBKS to 77/6 in a 193 chase that left them with no chance of recovery. However, Ashutosh was entering to accompany a composed Shashank Singh, who was his accomplice in the Ahmedabad theft. And even though an encore was not in the cards, Ashutosh turned the script on its head for the following eight overs, leaving the Mumbai Indians searching for answers with some brilliant reading and bold strokeplay.

With the assistance of Akash Madhwal’s hit-me length ball that strayed down leg and was forcefully swung over the fine leg lines, Ashutosh made his intentions apparent right away. But this was merely the beginning; a revolutionary breakthrough was still to come.

Next came Romario Shepherd, who predictably was swatted, rather literally, for his short, wide ball. The helicopter shot that he crashed over the deep square-leg was the high point of this combat, though. Hardik Pandya, the MI skipper, noticed another of those helicopters flying over the leg-side ropes and brought himself on for damage control.

MI called Bumrah for help, and he was able to remove Shashank and end a dangerous alliance on 34, but Ashutosh was not going to back down. Later in the over, when the MI spearhead overstepped, he expected a yorker and took it full, getting down on one knee and sweeping it for a fourth leg-side six. He broke into a smile, realising he had outfoxed one of the best in the game.

Shepherd came back with a slower ball that was longer in length, and the 25-year-old hit another maximum by pulling it to deep midwicket. Mostly a leg-side player, Ashutosh has put the cat among the pigeons with his vicious hitting. When Gerald Coetzee, who had begun his over by giving up back-to-back boundaries to Harpreet Brar, returned to the top of his bowling mark, it was clear that fear was creeping in from MI’s field placement. For Ashutosh, MI fielded four men on the leg-side—fine leg, square leg, deep midwicket, and long-on—all of whom were pushed back to the ropes and none of whom was inside the ring. Despite the strain caused by fear, Coetzee made a mistake with a delicious full toss from around the wicket, which the PBKS finisher assisted to the fine leg boundaries. In an apparent attempt to encourage the bowler to play to his strengths, Rohit Sharma had to rush in to console him. Ashutosh was unable to make contact with Coetzee’s slower delivery outside off as he resumed across the wicket.

Subsequently, the 10-ball-long Madhwal emerged, briefly propelling PBKS ahead. Even though Ashutosh was only out for two of the innings, he was still able to reduce the score from 42 off 27 to just 28 off the final four overs. Ashutosh raised a 23-ball maiden half-century in the Indian Premier League by anticipating the bowler’s line and length, backing away to give himself space for the attempted yorker, and drilling it flat over the ropes with the mid-off up on the circle. The Punjab hitter reverse-scooped the free-hit over short third to score his sixth maximum of the evening, which would have made a certain AB de Villiers proud, after the spinner overstepped, compounding the already dire situation.

With the asking rate down to a comfortable 7 an over, Brar joined in the fun, hitting the slot delivery back over the bowler’s head for his third devastating six of the over. This allowed PBKS to comfortably saw off Bumrah’s last over, which included just the three singles that started the over. The three dots at the end indicated that Ashutosh would be trying to escape against the next bowler, so Coetzee pulled the speed off and stationed five guys on the fence, obviously intending to go short. Punjab’s hopes were dashed when Ashutosh took the bait and holed out to deep midwicket, ending a brilliant counterattacking knock.

Coetzee’s shout revealed that the ruse had succeeded. The South African claimed, “He was cruising the game for them,” and went on, “He really brought [the attack] to us.” Therefore, we simply wanted to be quite explicit about our tactical goals, and we believe that we successfully closed it off in the backend.

“We learned that you really had to leverage the big boundaries from their innings and the mistakes we made in ours. It’s extremely difficult to slow down the pace, but they handled it really effectively. Concerning the carefully thought-out plan for Ashutosh’s ejection, he added, “We just took what we learned from their innings and adjusted our plans, and it worked.” “He didn’t hit it too badly, it was just pace off on the big boundary.”

With a huge smile on his face, Pandya gave the young player a tip of the cap as MI finally won by nine runs, collecting the two points. “[Ashutosh was] astounding. With that kind of approach, he hits nearly every ball off the bat with ease and confidence in his ability to accomplish his goals. It’s amazing. Extremely optimistic about him and his future,” the MI skipper exclaimed.

In his four IPL innings, Ashutosh has already played in every death over for the squad. His composed 28-ball 61 came after he had already scored 31, 33*, and 31 to spare PBKS the blushes in the following games.

“You’re not a slogger; you play proper cricketing shots and you should focus on [honing] that,” Sanjay [Bangar] father told me. His modest but sincere remark and expression of confidence changed everything for me and elevated my game. Ashutosh shared his interactions with the team’s Head of Cricket Development, saying, “I’m just trying to follow that now.”

He is a man of few words but great confidence in himself. And in most cases, realising the larger ambition only requires that.