Indian Premier League 2011 May 18, 2011

The man who stared adversity in the eye

Rahul Sharma's astonishing success in the IPL has come on the back of an equally stirring recovery from a potentially career-threatening illness
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Sachin Tendulkar, Chris Gayle, Adam Gilchrist and Paul Valthaty have scored hundreds in the IPL this year. They also share common ground in a rather unusual place: they have all fallen to Pune Warriors legspinner Rahul Sharma. The tall 24-year old from Jalandhar has been the most impressive Indian domestic bowler this IPL, and one of the few bright spots for Pune in an otherwise disappointing campaign. Rahul has picked up 16 wickets in 12 games, at an economy rate of 5.33, making him the third highest wicket-taker in the tournament as on May 18. That figure seems even more remarkable when compared to other Indian legspinners, particularly the two most prominent: Amit Mishra has gone at 7.07 an over, Piyush Chawla has leaked 7.71.

Rahul's performances against Mumbai Indians, 2 for 7 and 1 for 14, prompted even Tendulkar to compliment him. Not bad for someone who, after being diagnosed with a facial nerve disorder a season ago, had to use eye-drops after every delivery to give himself a chance of spotting the next one in the field.

Rahul had signed up with Deccan Chargers for IPL 2010 and was looking forward to making his debut under a man he credits for playing a major role in his rise - Adam Gilchrist. Six days before the tournament began though, Rahul developed severe pain on the right side of his face, his vision became hazy and his doctor declared that he could not play as he had Bell's Palsy.

"I was devastated as I desperately wanted to play," Rahul told ESPNcricinfo. "But I was weak after taking medication for my condition." Rahul's desperation was understandable. After having remained on the fringes of the Punjab team since making his first-class debut in 2006, he had enjoyed a breakthrough 2009-10 domestic season.

An extended run with the Ranji side hadn't produced anything noteworthy apart from a six-wicket haul against Railways, but he topped the bowling averages for Punjab in the Vijay Hazare one-day tournament that followed, taking 13 wickets at an average of 16.38 and an economy rate of 4.12.

His illness was causing practical problems before the IPL though. With dodgy vision in one eye, batting was one of them. Even allowing for the fact that he would not be required to perform much with the bat, there was no way he could be sharp while fielding, which is one area where passengers are rudely exposed in the shortest format.

That is where Gilchrist came in, and the former Deccan captain's unwavering support left a lasting mark of gratitude on Rahul. "Gilchrist said I had to push myself to play, no matter what." A compromise was worked out. Rahul fielded in the 30-yard circle, armed with eye-drops and a towel. "I could not even close my right eye; it was so bad that it used to remain open throughout. So I used to put eye-drops after every ball. I also carried a towel, and used to wipe my eye whenever it started to water too much."

How did an Australian invest so much faith in a little-known young Indian bowler in spite of the potentially career-threatening illness? Rahul said it was due to the sort of commitment Gilchrist has. "He has been the most supportive," Rahul said. "He is a very dedicated person and talks a lot to his team-mates. Due to my outgoing nature, I used to interact a lot with the Deccan overseas players and got along very well with them. In fact, Andrew Symonds even used to jokingly imitate the twitching of my eye."

A year of treatment has led to a lot of improvement. "It's just that now my eye closes a bit while bowling, that is all." That hasn't prevented him from troubling batsmen with the bounce and zip that he generates using his tall frame. His most expensive four-over spell this season has gone for just 29 runs. Even Lasith Malinga hasn't been that miserly.

The story doesn't end there. Not one of Rahul's 16 victims has been a bowler; more often than not, he has dismissed the opposition's key batsmen, including Kumar Sangakkara twice. The mode of his dismissals is revealing of the restricting fuller line he bowls. Almost all the batsmen have gone either bowled, stumped, leg-before, caught behind or caught at long-off and long-on.

"I could not even close my right eye; it was so bad that it used to remain open throughout. So I used to put eye-drops after every ball. I also carried a towel, and used to wipe my eye whenever it started to water too much."
Rahul Sharma

Rahul says he has always believed in making batsmen play. "There is no point in bowling wide outside off stump, especially in the shorter formats where you are likely to get hit. My strength is bounce, I concentrate on that. I don't bowl the googly very frequently, but try to use it against a new batsman."

The subtle turn and quicker pace for a legspinner have inevitably brought comparisons with Anil Kumble, and Rahul does not forget to pick his brains whenever he runs in to him. "I treat him as my guru. He has helped me a lot. I have spoken to him whenever I have been in Bangalore."

Rahul started playing as a medium-pacer, and that probably explains the unorthodox action. He turned to legspin during his Under-14 days. He has found it difficult to become a regular in the Punjab Ranji team, though he has been successful in domestic one-dayers for two seasons now. "When I made my debut, Punjab had a lot of good spinners and I also got injured thereafter. Also, because of the ICL, there was a lot of churn and many new players were given chances."

Bhupinder Singh snr and Devender Arora, his coaches, have stood by him. "Whatever I am today, it is due to my parents, Bhupinder sir, Arora sir, and Gilchrist." It was Bhupinder who pushed for his selection with Deccan.

With Gilchrist moving over to Kings XI Punjab, Rahul could have had an opportunity to turn out for his home IPL franchise, but he had already opted for Pune, led by his Punjab captain Yuvraj Singh. "Yuvraj spent some time with the Punjab Ranji team last season, and that is when he got to know me. He has supported me a lot this season. I had eagerly wanted to bowl and he has given me a chance right from the first game. He is very helpful and keeps talking to me throughout, whether on the field or off it."

Having battled against an illness that threatened to take his livelihood away from him, Rahul does not think too much about weighty matters like India selection. He does hope to get a job with the Sahara group. "Mera kaam perform karna hai (My job is to perform)." Meanwhile, he'll continue to fight everything that comes in his way.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • on May 20, 2011, 9:40 GMT

    its not long, you will be in mate, keep working hard, sweet things come late but surely they are.............

  • Sankara on May 20, 2011, 6:09 GMT

    You say most of his victims have been "either bowled, stumped, leg-before, caught behind or caught at long-off and long-on".

    Isn't it amazing how so few of his victims have been run out, timed out, out hitwicket, out obstructing the field, out hitting the ball twice or for handling the ball. Marvellous :-)

    But that apart, the lad has really bowled well!

  • Prats6 on May 20, 2011, 5:44 GMT

    The grit shown in the face of adversity is an amazing quality. He looks like someone with a lot of spunk and fight and needs to be rewarded for that. Definately needs a look in for the ODI side. I hope people like Harbhajan & Mishra can learn something from him as right now they are toothless and simply playing on past performances.

  • on May 20, 2011, 5:35 GMT

    When courage stares at you "single-eyedly" 22 yards away!: The bowler with just one active eyeball but with balls of steel:

  • on May 20, 2011, 2:13 GMT

    Wow i appreciate the fact that he has been a fighter but to call other bowlers good for nothing get a life move on guys.. everyone has proved their worth to be where they are....

  • on May 19, 2011, 19:00 GMT

    This lad has the perfect grit, talent and determination to excel at the highest level. But that is not enough in Indian cricket. There needs to be some 'Vaastha' (as Harbhajan has with skipper superior) and luck. Our selectors will select a good player after spending 2-6 years despite seeing talent! See the fate of Ashwin, an automatic choice who will walk into any international side today. See what happened to Piyush Chawla. Before 2007 world cup he shot into fame taking, of all, Sachin Tendulkar's wicket off a googly. but selectors sent Amit Mishra to WI. After 4 years when Mishra and Ozha were bowling better and Ashwin had come on the scene, the captain cool preferred Chawla on the decline! This is Indian cricket. On form alone, Valthaty (KXIP/Mumbai), S.Aravind (RCB/Karnataka) and Rahul Sharma should have been on the plane to WI for the ODI series ahead of anyone else!! See what happened to Mithun - sent on a dead track trail in SL, not sent to healthy wickets of SA!!

  • on May 19, 2011, 17:02 GMT

    Hats off to you Rahul Sharma and Gilchrist. And offcourse lots of thanks to Abhishek Purohit for such a wonderfull article.

  • the_silent_observer on May 19, 2011, 16:52 GMT

    In my opinion, two things stand out - Rahul's indomitable fighting spirit to overcome a career-threatening affliction (true Punjab warrior !!) and Gilchrist's humane attitude and mentoring prowess. It would have been easy for Rahul to slip into a self-sympathetic mode and oblivion ! It would have been equally easy for Gilly to spend his time with players not needing this additional support, given the mercenary nature of IPL. The fact that neither of them did what was the easiest shows the mental calibre. One has already made his mark and it will be soon before the other does ! All the best to Rahul !!

  • avidfan on May 19, 2011, 16:43 GMT

    harbahajan is good..excellent actually so is ashwin..but piyush chawla is crap ..an overrated player who got lucky with been in the world cup squad...

    give this guy sharma a chance in the indian team he sure wont let u down specially since he had to climb mountains to get there

  • on May 19, 2011, 16:38 GMT

    Rahul, you're a fighter. Keep fighting, nothing can stop you.

  • on May 20, 2011, 9:40 GMT

    its not long, you will be in mate, keep working hard, sweet things come late but surely they are.............

  • Sankara on May 20, 2011, 6:09 GMT

    You say most of his victims have been "either bowled, stumped, leg-before, caught behind or caught at long-off and long-on".

    Isn't it amazing how so few of his victims have been run out, timed out, out hitwicket, out obstructing the field, out hitting the ball twice or for handling the ball. Marvellous :-)

    But that apart, the lad has really bowled well!

  • Prats6 on May 20, 2011, 5:44 GMT

    The grit shown in the face of adversity is an amazing quality. He looks like someone with a lot of spunk and fight and needs to be rewarded for that. Definately needs a look in for the ODI side. I hope people like Harbhajan & Mishra can learn something from him as right now they are toothless and simply playing on past performances.

  • on May 20, 2011, 5:35 GMT

    When courage stares at you "single-eyedly" 22 yards away!: The bowler with just one active eyeball but with balls of steel:

  • on May 20, 2011, 2:13 GMT

    Wow i appreciate the fact that he has been a fighter but to call other bowlers good for nothing get a life move on guys.. everyone has proved their worth to be where they are....

  • on May 19, 2011, 19:00 GMT

    This lad has the perfect grit, talent and determination to excel at the highest level. But that is not enough in Indian cricket. There needs to be some 'Vaastha' (as Harbhajan has with skipper superior) and luck. Our selectors will select a good player after spending 2-6 years despite seeing talent! See the fate of Ashwin, an automatic choice who will walk into any international side today. See what happened to Piyush Chawla. Before 2007 world cup he shot into fame taking, of all, Sachin Tendulkar's wicket off a googly. but selectors sent Amit Mishra to WI. After 4 years when Mishra and Ozha were bowling better and Ashwin had come on the scene, the captain cool preferred Chawla on the decline! This is Indian cricket. On form alone, Valthaty (KXIP/Mumbai), S.Aravind (RCB/Karnataka) and Rahul Sharma should have been on the plane to WI for the ODI series ahead of anyone else!! See what happened to Mithun - sent on a dead track trail in SL, not sent to healthy wickets of SA!!

  • on May 19, 2011, 17:02 GMT

    Hats off to you Rahul Sharma and Gilchrist. And offcourse lots of thanks to Abhishek Purohit for such a wonderfull article.

  • the_silent_observer on May 19, 2011, 16:52 GMT

    In my opinion, two things stand out - Rahul's indomitable fighting spirit to overcome a career-threatening affliction (true Punjab warrior !!) and Gilchrist's humane attitude and mentoring prowess. It would have been easy for Rahul to slip into a self-sympathetic mode and oblivion ! It would have been equally easy for Gilly to spend his time with players not needing this additional support, given the mercenary nature of IPL. The fact that neither of them did what was the easiest shows the mental calibre. One has already made his mark and it will be soon before the other does ! All the best to Rahul !!

  • avidfan on May 19, 2011, 16:43 GMT

    harbahajan is good..excellent actually so is ashwin..but piyush chawla is crap ..an overrated player who got lucky with been in the world cup squad...

    give this guy sharma a chance in the indian team he sure wont let u down specially since he had to climb mountains to get there

  • on May 19, 2011, 16:38 GMT

    Rahul, you're a fighter. Keep fighting, nothing can stop you.

  • No-ryan on May 19, 2011, 16:35 GMT

    I agree with saurabh1900. Rahul Sharma with a bowling average of 43 in first class is after all better than Ashwin who has bowling average of 28 or so with tons of 5-vers and 10-vers. One good IPL season, people go ga-ga.

  • on May 19, 2011, 16:32 GMT

    commitment at its best just a open example of where their is a will der is a way ..

  • bhamism on May 19, 2011, 15:39 GMT

    I have had Bells Palsy, and I can tell you from experience what a nightmare it can be. Its another name for facial paralysis, one side of your face goes dead. Imagining someone playing cricket, let alone a career-defining thing like IPL. Hats off ! Being pretty much the best spinner of IPL 2011 thus far, Even better.

  • Raki99 on May 19, 2011, 14:20 GMT

    Lets Not get carried away, Let him perform in Ranji and other domestic games. People should not crtisize harbhajan, He is one of the best we have in all forms of the games.

  • eomer17 on May 19, 2011, 13:54 GMT

    yeah harbhajan has to really start to look after his place in the ltd overs,in test matches though he still our best.

  • InnocentGuy on May 19, 2011, 13:26 GMT

    Is there a pun intended in the title? 'Stared adversity in the eye'? Coz his one eye is not good?

  • Jim1207 on May 19, 2011, 12:54 GMT

    kingcobra85, What you probably saw was the best economy rate of all IPL altogether, which Ashwin leads. What this article mentions is that Rahul leads IPL 2011 economy rate, which is true as of Today.

  • kingcobra85 on May 19, 2011, 11:21 GMT

    great story! there was also balaji and ganguly who made comeback..Indian sportsmen are the most resilient in the world.BTW i think you guys made a mistake.I think there is only one bowler below 6 runs an over mark and its not Rahul sharma. Rahul sharma was third best economic bowler in the league they showed it yesterday

  • ronmat on May 19, 2011, 10:33 GMT

    "Where there is a will there is a way"..n Rahul has proved it through his cricketing life overcoming all challenges in his way..Hats off to u man..i can bet on one thing based on ur performace u r surely gonna get a call for the the national team..All the best man!!! Gilly u really are a gentleman of cricket..always motivating and supportive no matter who it is ..

  • on May 19, 2011, 10:22 GMT

    GREAT GILLY...YOU ALWAYS GREAT...

  • maheshkrc on May 19, 2011, 9:14 GMT

    This will tell you the importance of Dedication, commitment, leadership, Support and most importantly the Will Power...Well Done Rahul..Way to go..

  • coolguyrocks on May 19, 2011, 7:21 GMT

    India needs players such as Rahul sharma... His commitment above all else is a toast for Indian cricket... Gilly has been a legend. We salute you....

  • Seshadri.Venkat on May 19, 2011, 7:20 GMT

    An inspiring article that shows, perseverance empathy creativity and leadership in real life. A good case study for Youngsters and Professionals to discuss and learn.

  • on May 19, 2011, 7:06 GMT

    awesum story man...... u r an inspiration for all strugling cricketers.... keep it up, hope u'll play for india soon.

  • FAB_ALI on May 19, 2011, 6:55 GMT

    Next time when the Indian selectors ponder on a leg spinning option, it should be between Amit Mishra and Rahul Sharma only. Dont even think about Chawla bcoz he could be hit for a six by Geoff Boycott's Grandma One day!!!

  • SRT_GENIUS on May 19, 2011, 6:49 GMT

    @ashok16: don't be so passive-aggressive man! If you wanna lash out at Symonds, just do that! Is that how you code as well ?

  • on May 19, 2011, 6:42 GMT

    Rahul sharma and R ashwin can become good spin duo for the Indian team.

  • diehard_pulkit on May 19, 2011, 6:37 GMT

    wow...just wow......!!!!!!!

  • Rahul_78 on May 19, 2011, 6:17 GMT

    Indian cricket owes a bit to Shane Warne and Adam Gilchrist. There are many young Indian cricketers some of whom have made it big and some haven't who swore by these guys. They have been instrumentle in guiding the vulnerable youngsters with talent into the jungle of IPL and instill steal and confidence into them. They have been great mentors. Also best of luck to Rahul, he has shown the world that he is a fighter. Go win some more battles for your current team and for India in future.

  • Dhitik on May 19, 2011, 5:28 GMT

    it is inspiring.....well done Rahul and thnx Abhishek for letting us know.....:)

  • on May 19, 2011, 4:50 GMT

    hats of to rahul sharma also to gilly and yuvi fr supportin him ..

  • elangop on May 19, 2011, 2:45 GMT

    Ashwin and Rahul are proving themselves and much better than current indian spinners atleast on the ODI/T20's. they should get much more international exposure by playing for their country.

  • saurabh1900 on May 19, 2011, 1:58 GMT

    rahul is far better than ashwin.

  • KirGop on May 19, 2011, 0:53 GMT

    A very heart warming story. I can only imagine the turmoil he went thru. He's great for being persistant and the folks who have supported him, they are great as well.

    I can never see rahul sharma in the same light again. He's a man fighting adversity.

  • TRAM on May 18, 2011, 23:57 GMT

    Its clear that Ashwin & Rahul should be the spinners of India. The two opposite kinds, similar tall figures, intelligent, courageous, accurate, both not afraid of challenges. Selectors, please give them chances when they are young. So does Aron deserve chance in India team when he is young and bowling at 150+.

  • kishorecv on May 18, 2011, 23:05 GMT

    My Special thanks to Abhishek Purohit for this wonderful article.

  • kishorecv on May 18, 2011, 22:57 GMT

    I always admired his bowling. Before reading this article, I wasn't aware that he had health issues with his eye. He is an incredibly brave person. I hope he goes all the way to wearing an India Cap one day.

  • knowledge_eater on May 18, 2011, 21:56 GMT

    Very well written. I was craving for good praise article of someone, thanks. I was fed up with criticism/pessimistic articles like spinners dying and all that. No-one can replace Kumble and all that. Give credit where it's due. And that is what this piece has shown. Keep it up. both of you Rahul Sharma and Abhishek.This nerve disorder is incurable, he will have to take his medicine and deal with the condition. Oh well. He is strong. I will be happy if he gets better bowler day by day, and hopefully play for India. Peace

  • Sri_chicago on May 18, 2011, 21:01 GMT

    Nice article, very revealing and these are the types of things that really add to perspective. Thanks, Abhishek and Cricinfo. As for Rahul Sharma, it has been a pleasure to see him bowl and one of the highlights of this years IPL for me. Hope the selectors fast track him into national reckoning. Unfortunately, as long as Harbhajan Singh is around and favoured by his captain (whether or not he is taking wickets) the rest of the spinners will have to wait. Wonderful to read about Adam Gilchrist's unwavering support - kudos to the legend.

  • CheetosRule on May 18, 2011, 20:34 GMT

    What an inspiring story! I hope he goes on to play for India. He has overcome a lot as a youngster - this will hold him in good stead for the future. He seems like a very mentally tough cricketer and even when things have not gone his way, he never lost hope - he just kept working hard and mastering his craft. Also kudos to Gilly for inspiring and supporting Rahul. Gilly is a class act - on and off the pitch! Best wishes to Rahul for the future.

  • ashok16 on May 18, 2011, 19:57 GMT

    Interesting to read that Symmonds use to make fun of Rahul's physical attribute. One that he had no control over.

  • bharath74 on May 18, 2011, 19:34 GMT

    He is the find of IPL2011.

  • SasiGladi on May 18, 2011, 19:23 GMT

    Hats off Gilli, Bhaji keep your fingers crossed drought for spinners gone and it is now overflowing which is good for us, Ashwin and Rahul have proved their ability to the core...

  • SRT_GENIUS on May 18, 2011, 18:43 GMT

    Regardless of IPL talent vs domestic talent, the way Rahul bowls seems to suggest he understands his lengths very well - which is easy to go wrong for leg spinners (more than any other form of bowling). Hope he carries this knack in future.

  • bala-chala on May 18, 2011, 18:40 GMT

    I think Adam Gilchrist is the ultimate yardstick to measure greatness.

  • on May 18, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    salute !! may u get everything u dream of :) good luck

  • on May 18, 2011, 18:25 GMT

    Deserves all the credit he is getting, a guy with a big heart.... would like to see him perform even better and get into the national squad

  • D.Sharma on May 18, 2011, 18:06 GMT

    Ashwin + Sharma in the Indian team.

  • No featured comments at the moment.

  • D.Sharma on May 18, 2011, 18:06 GMT

    Ashwin + Sharma in the Indian team.

  • on May 18, 2011, 18:25 GMT

    Deserves all the credit he is getting, a guy with a big heart.... would like to see him perform even better and get into the national squad

  • on May 18, 2011, 18:37 GMT

    salute !! may u get everything u dream of :) good luck

  • bala-chala on May 18, 2011, 18:40 GMT

    I think Adam Gilchrist is the ultimate yardstick to measure greatness.

  • SRT_GENIUS on May 18, 2011, 18:43 GMT

    Regardless of IPL talent vs domestic talent, the way Rahul bowls seems to suggest he understands his lengths very well - which is easy to go wrong for leg spinners (more than any other form of bowling). Hope he carries this knack in future.

  • SasiGladi on May 18, 2011, 19:23 GMT

    Hats off Gilli, Bhaji keep your fingers crossed drought for spinners gone and it is now overflowing which is good for us, Ashwin and Rahul have proved their ability to the core...

  • bharath74 on May 18, 2011, 19:34 GMT

    He is the find of IPL2011.

  • ashok16 on May 18, 2011, 19:57 GMT

    Interesting to read that Symmonds use to make fun of Rahul's physical attribute. One that he had no control over.

  • CheetosRule on May 18, 2011, 20:34 GMT

    What an inspiring story! I hope he goes on to play for India. He has overcome a lot as a youngster - this will hold him in good stead for the future. He seems like a very mentally tough cricketer and even when things have not gone his way, he never lost hope - he just kept working hard and mastering his craft. Also kudos to Gilly for inspiring and supporting Rahul. Gilly is a class act - on and off the pitch! Best wishes to Rahul for the future.

  • Sri_chicago on May 18, 2011, 21:01 GMT

    Nice article, very revealing and these are the types of things that really add to perspective. Thanks, Abhishek and Cricinfo. As for Rahul Sharma, it has been a pleasure to see him bowl and one of the highlights of this years IPL for me. Hope the selectors fast track him into national reckoning. Unfortunately, as long as Harbhajan Singh is around and favoured by his captain (whether or not he is taking wickets) the rest of the spinners will have to wait. Wonderful to read about Adam Gilchrist's unwavering support - kudos to the legend.