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Match Analysis

How Abhishek Sharma shut down his critics in the IPL

There were a lot of questions about whether he should be opening for Sunrisers, and the young left-hander responded to them in style

Hemant Brar
Hemant Brar
Abhishek Sharma brought up his first half-century in the IPL  •  BCCI

Abhishek Sharma brought up his first half-century in the IPL  •  BCCI

"It was a pressure game for me as well as the team," Abhishek Sharma said as he picked up the Player-of-the-Match award for his 50-ball 75 which helped Sunrisers Hyderabad beat Chennai Super Kings by eight wickets and record their first win of IPL 2022.
Coming into this game, Sunrisers had two defeats in two outings and, Abhishek, opening the batting for the side, had scores of 9 and 13.
Before Saturday, Abhishek had played 22 innings in the IPL but failed to reach the double-figures in 12 of them. His highest score - an unbeaten 46 - had come almost four years ago, in his debut game for what was then called Delhi Daredevils.
Even though he opens for Punjab in domestic cricket, tongues had started wagging that he should be dropped down the order. After all, in Aiden Markram and Rahul Tripathi, Sunrisers have far more experienced and proven performers.
But on a sluggish pitch, Abhishek led a 155-run chase taking chances right from the start. He had to, because Kane Williamson is the designated anchor for Sunrisers and is supposed to bat through.
It wasn't a fluent start though, but then not many could bat fluently on that pitch. Abhishek started with a couple of mistimed pulls off left-arm seamer Mukesh Choudhary before finally nailing one over midwicket for four.
Maheesh Theekshana was supposed to keep things quiet, and take wickets, from the other end but Abhishek ruined Super Kings' plans by taking him on. His first four off the mystery spinner came via a thick outside edge but shortly afterwards he lofted him inside-out over extra cover for four before slog-sweeping him over deep midwicket for six.
Abhishek's hitting ensured the scoreboard didn't stagnate despite Williamson struggling for timing. Even when the field restrictions were lifted, he kept going for his shots. The most eye-catching of those were probably the two swatted sixes down the ground, one each off Choudhary and Chris Jordan.
He added 89 for the first wicket with Williamson and then 56 in just 31 balls with Tripathi. By the time Super Kings dismissed him, the result was all but sealed.
After the game, Tom Moody, Sunrisers' head coach, said he was surprised about all the chatter going on around Abhishek's batting position. During the in-match interview too, Moody was asked about the same.
"We had only played two games up to today's fixture," Moody said at the post-match press conference. "And we had a long wait between those two games. Things can be over-thought during that time, questions can be asked of any player. The first game particularly, in Pune, was a very difficult pitch to bat on. Any player of any quality found that challenging in the powerplay overs.
"We had recognised right at the beginning of the tournament, even at the auction, that Abhishek was going to be an important player for us at the top of the order. He has shown some great signs. He is an exciting young, talented player. And as we saw today, he delivered and it's great for him early in the tournament that he has managed to get a significant score under his belt. And hopefully, this is the beginning of a few more big scores throughout the tournament."
Those encouraging signs were Abhishek not getting knocked over early. In Sunrisers' first game, on a seaming Pune track, he stayed at the wicket till the ninth over and was the fourth batter out. This past Monday, he fell in the sixth over. That gave Moody and the rest of the team management the confidence to stick with Abhishek. They backed him to play his natural game and he repaid their faith.
Abhishek belongs to the same Under-19 batch as Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill. Compared to them, and even Arshdeep Singh, another from that batch, he seems to have fallen behind, but those who have been following his career from his age-group days know he has been there and overcome that before.
Back in 2015-16, many of his U-16 team-mates were being selected for U-19 matches while he seemed stuck at the lower level. That season, in the Vijay Merchant U-16 Trophy, Abhishek piled on 1200 runs at 109.09 and, with his left-arm spin, picked up 57 wickets at 10.56. After that there was no stopping him.
Abhishek and Sunrisers will both hope that this knock leads to a similar turnaround in his IPL career.

Hemant Brar is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo