The 19th Asian Games is a couple of months away and like any other athlete, Vidarbha wicketkeeper-batter Jitesh Sharma is also looking forward to the quadrennial event in Hangzhou, China. Cricket is back in the Asiad after 9 years and this time, India too will mark its participation in both men’s and women’s categories.
For Jitesh It will be an experience which will be a far cry from what he has normally experienced as a cricketer. He has playing domestic cricket for Vidarbha, shared dressing rooms with stalwarts in IPL and international cricket. But, now he, alongside a bunch of youngsters, will board the flight to China in the hunt for gold medal for his country – a rarity in Cricket.
“Aaj tak to ye sab sirf TV par dekha tha, ‘Milkha Singh’ ki movie mein… ab khud experience karunga,” said Jitesh who feels lucky to be a part of the Indian squad for the Asiad. Donning the blue jersey for the first time in China would be an achievement in itself and the 29-year-old is focused on singing the national anthem following a podium finish with a gold medal around his neck.
In an exclusive conversation with News18 CricketNext, Jitesh spoke about his unexpected Asiad call-up, his cricketing journey so far, life at Punjab Kings camp in the IPL and much more.
Here are the excerpts:
Congratulations on the call-up. Was it expected?
Aisa koi expectation to nahi tha (Wasn’t expecting). It’s just that, I got to know when the teams were out on Twitter.
Playing for India for the first time and that too in China. You would have never thought of that, isn’t it?
Kabhi socha to nahi tha sir. (He chuckles). China to kabhi thought process mein aata hi nahi kisi player ke (Never thought about it. China is never in the thought process of a player). Obviously, it’s a non-cricketing country and we have never thought or visualised ever playing there. But cricket to cricket hai, jaha bhi khelne mile, bas enjoy karna hai cricket ko (It’s cricket after all and you need to enjoy wherever and whenever you got to play).
You were not named in the West Indies T20Is. Did that bother you?
I didn’t think much about that. I believe, sometimes you need to understand the thought process of the selectors. The 50-over World Cup is coming. They might also be having a viewpoint while picking up a team. So, I think, we should respect that decision.
What would be the feeling of wearing the Indian jersey?
I’ll feel proud. Obviously, very proud. When I wear that blue T-shirt, I feel the responsibility of giving importance to it and hope I do justice to it with my performance.
A team full of youngsters playing for India in the Asiad. How this is going to be?
Sabse bada kaam to coaches ka rahega ki kaise sab bachhon ko control karein. It will be a big task for the coaches to control everyone. They would know we have been playing together for quite a long time now. Be it for our states or any club, we have played together and we know each other very well.
And speaking of this batch, all are young and adventurous. But they are caring at the same time and fun to go with. I think this tour is going to be extremely memorable.
How excited are you about the Asiad, knowing that you will be there with not just cricketers but athletes from around the country?
Sir, aaj tak to ye sab sirf TV par dekha tha, ‘Milkha Singh’ ki movie mein dekha tha. (Have so far seen all these on TV, especially in the ‘Milkha Singh’ movie’). But now I’ll experience it myself. You can say that we are very lucky that we are going to the Asian Games.
I feel we all will stand together as a team and represent our country. We’ll also cheer for everyone who will be there for individual sports and we’ll look to have as many medals as we can.
‘China mein national anthem bajaana hai apne ko (Want to hear our national anthem in China)’.
Ruturaj Gaikwad as captain – what’s your opinion on that?
He is a calm and controlled person. He has been playing for Chennai (Super Kings), so he must be having a better idea. And I think he’ll be a good leader because MS Dhoni ki chhatrochhaya mein reh chuka hai wo (he has been under MS Dhoni). So, he must be having a good idea about captaincy.
Whenever I have played against him, I’ve found him very calm and controlled. So, it’s a very good sign for a good captain because if he is calm then he can think clearly. He would have clarity about what to do and when to do it. So, I think, it will be a great experience playing under his leadership.
As a middle-order batter, how do you prepare for nervy situations?
Sab simple hi hota hai, aisa kuch rocket science to hai nahi (It’s quite simple, not rocket science). It is just that you need to have a neutral thought process and be clear in mind that what you want to do. The more shots you got; the easier will be to react at that time. Whatever plan you are going with, doesn’t matter if it clicks or not, you have to have that confidence in what you are going to do. If your plan doesn’t work, you cannot change it repeatedly. That’s why I say, clarity zaroori hai when you bat at that position.
Like, if you have thought that I’ll finish the game in 17-18 overs or take the game deeper till the final over, then you have to back yourself and go for it. According to me, there is no place for giving it a second thought.
Tell us something about your conversation with MS Dhoni during IPL.
I had spoken with him just once, last year. He told me how to cope with high-intensity situations. Not any major conversation as such. He said instead of training for 5-6 hours if you work hard for just an hour with that intensity, that will be good enough. He told me to keep things as simple as possible. Nothing much. But uss simple cheez ko follow karna his sabse difficult kaam hota hai (To follow those simple things is the most difficult job).
How did you start training in your early days? We’ve heard that you practiced watching a lot of videos.
I didn’t have professional training in my childhood because there were not enough facilities in Amravati. There was a dearth of coaches when I was growing up. So, I didn’t get professional coaching until I came to VCA (Vidarbha Cricket Association), in Nagpur, and started playing for the state. Till then I was just seeing others and copying. I had no idea about where my elbow should go or where the shoulder shall fall.
But now I take advice from everybody. Wasim Jaffer is there, the likes of Ranjeet Paradkar sir and Pritam Gandhe sir are also there… so I keep on garnering advice from everyone. Because knowledge kahi se bhi mile lena chaiye.
What has been the impact of IPL on your life?
Success to IPL se hi aaya hai, mai to tha hi nahi kahin (Whatever success I have had, it’s all because of IPL). IPL is the reason I started getting chances and my life changed completely. Also, my performance in the domestic tournaments. But you have to give credit to Punjab Kings and Anil (Kumble) sir for showing faith in me and giving me the opportunity. In return, I tried living up to the expectation. So, a very big hand of them behind my rise.
You played all 14 games in IPL 2023. With some like Jonny Bairstow being unavailable, what kind of message did you get from the management?
Message was clear – aapko jo aata hai wahi kijiye aur sabko pata tha mujhe kya aata hai (I was asked to do what I can best). In Punjab Kings, we have a thought process that we have to play an attacking game. Shikhar bhai sorted aadmi hain, he had clearly conveyed our roles. Wasim Bhai was the batting coach so he too was clear on his part. And the pre-season camp where the players arrive and gel up, instructions beforehand were very helpful.
How is Shikhar Dhawan as a leader?
The biggest thing about him is he is a very good man. Wo dusron ko successful dekhna chahte hain (he wants to see others being successful). That’s why he enjoys the glory of the people around him. And at the same time, he enjoys his captaincy. Winning or losing is the end result but primarily, he is never shy of trying things. Ekdum paani ki tarah hain wo, ekdum clear.
It’s very easy to talk to him anytime, be it on or off the field. It feels as if you are playing with your elder brother and not just as a captain.
You got your maiden India call-up earlier this year for the Sri Lanka series. How was the experience of sharing the dressing room with the stars of Indian cricket?
It was obviously a new experience and adventurous. I can’t describe it in words, it was that good. I was eagerly looking to learn new things. I’m not someone who gets satisfied easily. But at the same time, I’m very calm. So, I was enjoying the environment and sulking in happiness at the same time.