After the retirement of Anil Kumble, team India was searching for a leg-spinner. Though there was Amit Mishra on the sidelines; he was not a permanent member of the side. Then came Rahul Sharma. The tall and lanky leg-spinner from Punjab – a state which has produced legendary off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.
Rahul made a name for himself during IPL 2011 where he shone with the ball by taking 16 wickets in 14 games at a mere economy rate of 5.46. His most impressive performance came against Mumbai Indians in the 44th match where he bowled a spell of 4-0-7-2. This spell earned him praise from everyone and Master Blaster Sachin Tendulkar too liked his bowling.
Riding on a brilliant performance in IPL, Rahul Sharma earned a place in Test and ODI team in 2011 the Windies tour of India. He had to wait for a bit in the series before he was handed his international debut in the fourth ODI in Indore. On a flat wicket, Virender Sehwag became just the second batsman in the world to score a double century in One-day cricket. Sehwag stole all the limelight but the best part of the day was yet to come.
Rahu Sharma did something which was totally surprising. He grabbed three wickets in a similar fashion and all of them came on the last delivery of an over. Rahul shared the honours of being a star of the game with Virender Sehwag.
Sharma went on to play in Australia and Sri Lanka in the following year but an injury to him acted as a barrier to his success. Injury has kept him away from the game and leggie made a comeback for Punjab earlier this year.
Sportzwiki caught up with Rahul Sharma to know how he recovered to be back in the team and his dream of playing for India again.
Here as some excerpts of the interview –
SW: Rahul, you were one of the bright prospects at the start of your international career but soon you were not part of Indian setup anymore. What has been the real reason behind the slump in your career?
Rahul: It has been an injury that has been the reason for that. It’s very difficult to bowl with a back and shoulder injury. According to me, if you aren’t 100% fit, then it is not easy for any player to make a place in the team.
SW: You made a comeback to the Punjab squad for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy this year but did not get a game. Are you hoping to get a place in playing XI next season?
Rahul: It was good to be selected in the Punjab side but the conditions were opposite for the spinners. The team decided to play with only one spinner. Harbhajan Singh was the one. He is the legend of the game. I’m hoping that I will perform well this year.
SW: You have a direct competition with skipper Harbhajan Singh, Sarabjeet Singh Ladda and many other spinners for a place in the squad as a spinner. Are you looking forward to switching to another state next season so as to get regular games in future?
Rahul: First of all I do not compete with anyone for a place in the side. I compete with myself to do well and improve. I started playing for Punjab right from the start and I will continue to play for Punjab only. My focus is to do well for my team.
SW: Despite taking a fifer in your last t20 for India A, you weren’t given a chance again. Did anything go wrong on your part?
Rahul: Before that Fifer, I wasn’t bowling to my 100% and I didn’t get backing at that time but it’s part and parcel of the game. I believe in doing hard work to achieve the goal.
SW: You made a sudden progress as after one good season with Pune Warriors India and you were in the India Test and ODI squad. What was your reaction when you got a call for the Indian team?
Rahul: The reaction was quite normal. I was in Jaipur at that time, practising for the Rest of India game. The news of my selection in the Indian team was delivered by Parthiv Patel and I was happy that my dream to represent my country has been fulfilled. But Yuvi Paji (Yuvraj Singh) had told me that Sachin Tendulkar has suggested my name for the selection. Jab God Ji no hi bowl diya, to mjhe lga ab ho jayega. Thanks to God (When Sachin has recommended my name, then I thought that I will make into the Indian team. Thanks to God).
Rahul: I don’t know why everybody says that I replaced him. I am a leg-spinner and he is a legendary off-spinner. I have grown by learning from him. Whenever he used to return from a tour, I used to talk to him. I can’t fathom that how can I replace him.
SW: You had a superb debut as you took three wickets in the game in the similar fashion and on the last delivery. You were the star of the day along with Virender Sehwag. Did Viru give any special message to you?
Rahul: After batting on that wicket, Viru Bhai (Virender Sehwag) told me that the wicket is too flat Sharma Ji, to which I replied by saying that I have been playing local cricket on these pitches only. It’s my regular habit to play on these type of wickets. When I performed well in that game, he was quite happy and after that, we developed a strong bonding.
SW: At this point in time, do you plan to play only T20s or List A and first –class cricket as well?
Rahul: I am keen to play all three formats of the game.
SW: Do you still hope to play for India?
Rahul: Yes, of course. My aim is to make a comeback in the Indian team and want to represent the country 2019 World Cup. I want to win the World Cup for my nation. YI believe that I will make a comeback in the Indian team and will perform well. I have done well in the number of opportunities provided to me. The injury to me disturbed my bowling rhythm and at that time, no one was helping me.
I have made a comeback in the game and it feels quite good now. I made a comeback in the Punjab side. It was sheer hard work and blessing of my family members and my fans. I want to thank my coach Hirwani sir and my local home coach Harry sir too.
SW: Who has been your inspiration all throughout your journey so far?
Rahul: My inspiration is Bhajju paa (Harbhajan Singh) and Anil Kumble bhai. I am struggling from last three years and it’s never easy to watch cricket on TV when you aren’t playing the game. I used to read books. Yuvraj Singh is my inspiration. Our India army is my inspiration. When I see them doing so much for the country, it makes me believe that I will make a comeback in the team.
SW: To conclude, have you developed any roadmap for the upcoming season to get a place in playing XI?
Rahul: Planning for one game at a time, this has been normal funda of my life. I keep my aims higher. At this period of time during the off-season, I am working to attain 100% fitness and then focus will be on the off-season tournaments to prepare for the upcoming season. I always believe in God, baki Raab Rakha (God bless).