This lad from Gwalior had generally batted lower down the order – irrespective of the format and the team he played for. In his previous stints with the Hyderabad franchise, Ankit Sharma had only managed four outings with the bat – not batting higher than No.7 – and bowled a total of 26 overs in 10 matches. It was a surprise, therefore, when he walked out to open the batting against the Chennai Super Kings. But the move worked brilliantly. The youngster, in his first match of the season, outshone his more recognized partner, Shane Watson – and dominated the 60-run partnership. After taking his time to settle down, Sharma struck two beautiful boundaries in the fourth over – first over mid-off and then through extra cover. He then slogged R Ashwin over the mid-on fielder, guided a leg-stump delivery to the fine-leg fence and then deposited one into the stands at midwicket. After that brief cameo – 30 off 27 balls – he came back to do more damage, this time with the ball. He opened the bowling, bowled tidy left-arm spinners, and picked up two huge wickets – Brendon McCullum and Suresh Raina. No other team recognizes the talent and ability in young and budding cricketers and gets more out of them than the Rajasthan Royals. Ankit Sharma’s success against the Chennai Super Kings is yet another case in point.
Naman Ojha | 79* (36 balls) v Kings XI Punjab
With all the damage they’ve done in international cricket, it was obvious that Aaron Finch, Shikhar Dhawan and David Warner would occupy the top three spots in the Sunrisers Hyderabad batting line-up. However, when that strategy didn’t work out too well, the team split up the big three and made room for others to bat one-drop. And Naman Ojha seems to have made the most of that opportunity. After the openers had seen the team off to a rollicking start against Kings XI Punjab, Ojha walked out to bat in the ninth over and ensured the pressure remained on the KXIP bowlers. The 30-year-old made some smart choices during his unbeaten knock of 79; early on, he picked on the weak links in the KXIP bowling line-up (the inexperienced Shivam Sharma and Akshar Patel – scoring three sixes and two fours off the duo). Once he was seeing the ball nicely, even Sandeep Sharma – the spearhead of the KXIP bowling attack – wasn’t spared; two full-tosses were deposited to the point boundary and two deliveries were sent into the stands. Just how good was he? While he scored 79 runs at one end, the batsmen at the other end – despite facing just as many deliveries as Ojha – could muster only 52 runs.
Manan Vohra | 47 (20 balls) v Sunrisers Hyderabad
It was a surprise to many when Kings XI Punjab announced prior to the season that they were retaining only two players – one of who was Manan Vohra. However, when Vohra’s name did not figure in KXIP’s playing XI in the early part of the season, many started to question the rationale behind retaining him. The 20-year-old got his first opportunity against Sunrisers Hyderabad. One can only imagine the pressure the kid would have faced when he walked out to bat. It was, therefore, quite the spectacle to see him come out and perform the way he did. Asked to open the innings in a chase of 206, Vohra lost his opening, Virender Sehwag, in the first over. But that did not deter him or slow him down. He announced himself with a spectacular pull shot – off the world’s best bowler, Dale Steyn. He repeated the act, in the ninth over, when he picked a slower one early, got into position, and deposited the ball into the stands at midwicket. Vohra’s innings was not all about power; he also picked the gaps in the field, often using the pace of the ball and giving it great direction. He looked set for a big score when he was run-out in an unfortunate manner; the bowler got a touch to a straight drive from Glenn Maxwell and guided the ball back onto the stumps with Vohra short of his crease. Such was Vohra’s innings that it left many wondering why he was left to warm the benches until then.
Sanju Samson | 40 (25 balls) v Delhi Daredevils
Just how good is Sanju Samson? One just had to see the teenager’s three sixes in the match against the Delhi Daredevils. That the young lad has a sound technique and good temperament is well documented. Those three hits were evidence that he has a sharp eye, good footwork, a still head, the gift of timing and power in his arms. The first hit, off Manoj Tiwary, gave us a glimpse into his footwork. Just after the bowler had released the ball, Samson danced down the track, got beside the line of the ball, made contact with it, went through the shot and sent it into orbit. The next shot was pure timing; Siddarth Kaul gave the batsman just enough width to free his arms. Samson, gauging that he had enough width to play his stroke and that the ball was in his arc, stood still, played through the line and the bat swing was sweet enough to deposit the ball into the stands at long-off. Later in the same over, this time when the bowler attempted a short delivery, Samson stood tall in the crease and flat-batted it over the bowler straight into the sightscreen – making it to appear like he’d just played a tennis forehand. The 19-year-old has been entertaining with cameos and played shots that have left audiences spellbound. It is about time he converts those cameos and starts winning games on his own.