It was a day of great disappointment for the Chandigarh Cricket team when Madhya Pradesh stomped them to an innings defeat in the second round of the Ranji Trophy on December 22, 2022. Their batters never rose to the occasion, and barring Ankit Kaushik’s 69 in the second innings, none of their batters even crossed 35 across both innings. But Sandeep Sharma held his own, with a seven-wicket haul, to wage a lone battle for his side.
It was not the first time that Sandeep was in his element. He's been one of the most consistent performers in Indian Premier League history, without having the limelight on him. For years, Sharma continued to do what he does best - taking wickets like plucking apples from the garden and in the process, maintaining a level of calm that is unbeknownst to many.
However, on December 23, 2022 at the plush Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, when teams were splurging cash to fill the gaping holes in their teams, none of them had found Sharma worthy enough. Which itself is damning for the kind of performer Sharma has been in the IPL - with a level of versatility that not many could boast.
“I’m shocked and disappointed,” a disheartened Sandeep Sharma told Cricket.com. “I don’t know why I went unsold. I’ve done well whichever team I had played for and genuinely thought some team would bid for me. To be honest, I was not expecting this. Don’t even know where it has gone wrong. In domestic cricket, I have been performing well. In the Ranji Trophy, last round, I took seven wickets. I did so well in Syed Mushtaq Ali.”
And Sandeep is right. Bhuvneshwar Kumar is the only bowler to have taken more powerplay wickets than Sandeep Sharma and the Punjab bowler did it with an economy of 6.9 which is world-class. Between 2014 and 2020, for seven straight seasons, he was the only bowler to take 12+ wickets in every season and he still is the only bowler to dismiss Virat Kohli 7 times - the highest by any bowler - and Chris Gayle 4 times - the joint second-highest by any bowler in the IPL history. That Sandeep is the second-quickest Indian pacer to take 50 IPL wickets (40 innings) is not lost on many.
These numbers paint a real picture of the impact the Patiala-born bowler has had in the IPL.
In T20s, maintaining control while taking wickets has been a insurmountable task. But Sandeep, despite being a prolific wicket-taker, has managed to keep a lid on the tab, putting himself in the same league with the likes of Lasith Malinga, Jasprit Bumrah, and Bhuvneshwar. He is one of the six pacers in IPL history to have taken 100+ wickets at an economy under 8.00 and only four pacers have a better wickets per innings than him.
“I have always strived to be consistent in my bowling. And that’s the only thing in my hands. I can’t control selection or non-selection. If a chance comes then good, or else, I have to keep doing good work,” Sandeep said, with a tangible sense of hurt in his voice.
The injury dynamics during the IPL and the way teams have stacked up, don’t be surprised if Sandeep Sharma gets a call-up from any side at any moment. That is the direction in which he would work now, but it is a real shame that we won’t be witnessing one of the finest operators of T20 cricket from ball one of the season. That is the loss of IPL, more than that of Sandeep Sharma.