Mumbai: Punjab Kings (PBKS) wicketkeeper-batter Jitesh Sharma’s added incentive to take up cricket at the school level was that it came with the bonus of getting four per cent extra marks.
While he was aiming to get good scores in physics, chemistry, mathematics in high school, the opportunity was too tempting to be turned down, and it began his tryst with cricket. While cricket was not his first-choice sport, it ended up paying rich dividends later on in his sporting career.
Jitesh emerged as one of the key players in the Punjab franchise’s 54-run win against the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) at Brabourne on April 3. The 28-year-old cricketer first scored a 17-ball 26 in his team’s 180/8 and then took two catches — including that of Mahendra Singh Dhoni on 23 — as PBKS bundled out CSK for 126 in 18 overs.
“Back then, if I represented the team at state-level competitions in cricket, I could get four per cent extra marks,” Sharma said on the PBKS website, adding that the opportunity was too tempting to be turned down.
Missing school for the whole day
“Additionally, I could also miss a whole day of school, as opposed to just a few hours for football (Jitesh’s first love). I wanted to take up cricket with these conditions in mind,” added Sharma.
He picked up his first bat at 17, playing for the state after clearing the requisites to be in the team. Sharma also picked up wicketkeeping while playing for he state, with little or no coaching, relying mostly on his footballing instincts. He said that playing as a right striker helped him with the sideways movements while doing duty behind the stumps.
“The side movement I learnt in football helped me immensely in wicketkeeping,” Sharma said, adding that the footballing days gave him the strength and the agility to get the incoming deliveries quickly behind the wickets.
Ambition to join Indian Air Force
Sharma, who studied with the ambition to join the Indian Air Force, said he never knew cricket would become his destiny one day. “When I was a child, I was mostly attracted to defence. My background is quite attached to defence. My great grandfather was a driver for Subhas Chandra Bose when the Indian National Army was at the border. After listening to those stories, I was very attracted to getting a job in the Indian defence,” Sharma said.
Although he plays for Vidarbha, his father is from Himachal Pradesh, where he grew up listening to stories of people braving wars to keep the country safe. “He [father] always talks about the country. He is always worried about politics and the future of the country. Hence, I was never attracted to cricket. I only started playing gully [street] cricket as a child,” said Sharma.
It was that gully cricket, played with plastic balls that first drew a renowned coach’s attention on Sharma. “I was attracted more towards football since it was physically challenging. It came naturally to me. That is why I used to play football for the school and with friends,” Sharma said. But his school team was not that great with football, and the management offered additional perks for someone who played cricket. That additional perks slightly tipped him in favour of cricket.
Sharma said his aim this season was to help Punjab Kings win their maiden IPL trophy. “I will contribute in whichever way I can. I am a team man. If the team wins because of me, I will definitely be the happiest in the squad. My only aim this year is to try and help the Punjab Kings win its first trophy.”