Rahul Sharma, the Punjab and Pune Warriors legspinner, has been one of the most-improved performers in this IPL. Last season, he took just five wickets and went at 8.08 an over in the six matches he played for Deccan Chargers. This year, after switching to Pune Warriors, he has already taken 11 wickets and his economy rate of 5.27 is the best among all bowlers who have bowled more than 10 overs. He attributed some of his success to advice he received from fellow Punjab spinner Harbhajan Singh.
"I had a chat with Bhajji when he came to Jalandhar and he told me that my strong point is the bounce I can extract," Rahul, who is more than six-feet tall, told the Hindustan Times. "He told me to keep working on that."
Rahul received similar advice from his Punjab coach Bhupinder Singh. "I have advised him to hit the pitch so that he gets bounce," Singh said. "He is very similar to Anil Kumble and can be groomed to be a good limited edition bowler."
Apart from extracting bounce, Rahul said what he was also working on was bowling a wicket-to-wicket line, and using as many variations as possible. That strategy worked well for him during Pune's home game against Mumbai Indians in which he had figures of 4-0-7-2, the most economical by any bowler in this IPL. "I had a strategy to bowl wicket to wicket with variations," Rahul said of that performance. "You can't be predictable in Twenty20."
Things did not look good for Rahul after he was diagnosed with Bell's Palsy - a dysfunction of the facial nerve that results in one's inability to control facial muscles and results in temporary paralysis - during the last IPL. Rahul said it affected his vision.
"I was advised complete rest by the doctors," Rahul told the Indian Express. "My vision was hazy and I couldn't move my lips. I knew if I quit, I would miss the opportunity. It was a difficult period of my life. I had to do lots of facial exercises but eventually it was my will power that helped me keep going amid the discomfort."
One of the things that has helped Rahul during this edition of the IPL is the fact that his captain at Pune, Yuvraj Singh, is also from Punjab and had played with Rahul in the 2010-11 Ranji Trophy. "Yuvraj played three Ranji matches this season and it was there he got to know me. He has been very supporting and encouraging. So have the coach Geoff Marsh and assistant coach Praveen Amre.
"On the eve of every match, Marsh and Yuvi paaji brief me on every player and I bowl accordingly. Sometimes, that doesn't work and then I have to think on my feet. I vary the pace a lot and rely heavily on my legspinners. My aim is to be accurate as much as I can and the bounce I purchase from the wicket helps me contain runs,"
Rahul played only one Ranji match in the 2010-11 season, and has featured in nine games since his debut in 2006.
After a few steady performances, Rahul entered the limelight during Pune's first match against Mumbai, at the Wankhede Stadium, in which he dismissed Sachin Tendulkar and went for just 14 runs in his three overs. Rahul said Tendulkar congratulated him after the match. "He told me that I am bowling at my best. It is the best compliment that one can receive."
Pune's next game is against Kings XI Punjab, in Mohali, on Sunday.