Feature

Rahane, Chawla, Mishra and others with surprise comebacks at IPL 2023

Five players who were almost forgotten but are now putting in match-winning performances

Deivarayan Muthu
20-Apr-2023
Ajinkya Rahane has surprised everyone with his clean hitting  •  BCCI

Ajinkya Rahane has surprised everyone with his clean hitting  •  BCCI

After a spell in the wilderness, quite a few old boys have returned to restate their credentials in the IPL. ESPNcricinfo looks at five surprise comebacks this season.

Ajinkya Rahane (Chennai Super Kings)

He had struggled to keep pace with T20 cricket in the past. More recently, he was dropped from India's Test team. But Ajinkya Rahane has scripted an unexpected turnaround in IPL 2023 - his strike rate of 222.22 in the powerplay is by far the best among those who have scored at least 100 runs during that phase in an IPL season.
After a hamstring injury had curtailed his stint in IPL 2022, where he managed just 133 runs in seven innings at an average of 19.00 and strike rate of 103.90, he was bought by Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2023 auction for his base price of INR 50 lakh. Rahane didn't start for Super Kings this IPL, but after Moeen Ali was sidelined with a stomach bug, he dashed out of the bench and regularly hit over the top against both pace and spin in the powerplay.
Super Kings would have expected Rahane to perform the role Robin Uthappa used to do before his retirement from international and Indian cricket. But, with his high intent and role clarity, Rahane has exceeded all expectations so far.
Rahane hasn't been fielding at slips - MS Dhoni has often posted Moeen in that position - but he has been manning the hotspots in the outfield. His spectacular leap right at the edge of the long-off boundary at the Chinnaswamy Stadium denied Glenn Maxwell a six and saved five runs for Super Kings. Royal Challengers ended up hitting one six fewer than Super Kings' 17 and losing by eight runs.

Sandeep Sharma (Rajasthan Royals)

After having played every IPL season from 2013 to 2022, Sandeep Sharma went unsold in the most recent auction. However, after Prasidh Krishna was ruled out of the entire IPL 2023 with a stress fracture, Sandeep joined Rajasthan Royals as his replacement and has been a reliable bowler in both the powerplay and at the death.
Tasked with defending 20 in the last over against Dhoni at Chepauk, Sandeep started the over with two wides and then conceded back-to-back sixes, but he held his nerve to stop Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja with back-to-back yorkers. Sandeep had also set up Royals' defence of 175 by dismissing Ruturaj Gaikwad in the powerplay. After the game, Sandeep said that he had been nailing his yorkers at the nets and perhaps that's why Sanju Samson backed him to bowl the final over to Dhoni ahead of Kuldeep Sen, who can generate extra pace and bounce.
After Sandeep helped Royals breach CSK's fortress, he took the key wickets of Shubhman Gill and David Miller to set the scene for another away win, this time against Gujarat Titans in Ahmedabad.

Piyush Chawla (Mumbai Indians)

Piyush Chawla was ignored at the mega auction in 2022. In the next auction, the 34-year-old was the last player to be bought by Mumbai Indians for his base price of 50 lakh before the start of the accelerated rounds. Chawla is currently Mumbai's highest wicket-taker this season with seven strikes in five games at an economy rate of 7.15.
He rolled back the years against Delhi Capitals , when he took 3 for 22, including the wickets of Rovman Powell and Manish Pandey, at the Arun Jaitley Stadium. Chawla also got his legbreaks and wrong'uns to rip against Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium, where he sent their chase into a tailspin with the wickets of Abhishek Sharma and Heinrich Klaasen.

Amit Mishra (Lucknow Super Giants)

Just like Chawla, Amit Mishra had gone unsold in the IPL 2022 mega auction. Just like Chawla, he got a gig this year and has proved once again there's still room for old-school flight and dip in the age of fast legbreaks and mystery spin.
Mishra, 40, was the oldest player at the auction, where Lucknow Super Giants snapped him up for his base price of INR 50 lakh. Super Giants unleashed him on Sunrisers on a black-soil turner at the Ekana stadium, where he came away with 2 for 23 from his four overs. He could be a regular feature for Super Giants at home, especially if they continue to use black-soil pitches. Plus, the introduction of the Impact Player rule means he doesn't have to toil in the field like Rahane and can just put his feet up in the dressing room after finishing his bowling shift.

Mohit Sharma (Gujarat Titans)

Before IPL 2023, Mohit Sharma's last season as an IPL regular was in 2018. Before that, he was the Purple Cap winner in 2014 and was part of the India team that reached the semi-final of the 2015 ODI World Cup.
Injuries then ravaged his career, but a net-bowling stint in IPL 2022 with the eventual champions Gujarat Titans paved his way back. Ashish Nehra, the Titans coach who had also worked with Mohit at Super Kings, liked what he saw in the nets and Titans bought him at the IPL 2023 auction for his base price of INR 50 lakh. He was then brought into the XI ahead of Shivam Mavi and R Sai Kishore, after Yash Dayal was smashed for successive five sixes by Rinku Singh in the final over the match.
Mohit marked his return, against Punjab Kings, with into-the-pitch offcutters and back-of-the-hand slower ones that had once impressed Dhoni at both CSK and India. He conceded only 18 runs in his four overs to go with the wickets of Jitesh Sharma and Sam Curran in a Player-of-the-Match-winning performance. Comebacks don't get better than this.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo