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Can high-impact Jitesh Sharma be the ace in India's T20 deck?

Despite batting lower down the order, he provides huge value and consistency while playing a high-tempo game

Sidharth Monga
Sidharth Monga
Since the start of 2021, only two batters around the world have been quicker than Jitesh in innings of under 30 balls  •  BCCI

Since the start of 2021, only two batters around the world have been quicker than Jitesh in innings of under 30 balls  •  BCCI

For a long time in Punjab Kings' innings against Mumbai Indians on May 3, it looked like it was not going to be possible to hit a six off the spinners. The canny Mumbai spinners, Piyush Chawla and Kumar Kartikeya, were not firing it in, they were keeping it away from the batter' reach, and the slowish pitch was helping them out.
Then Jitesh Sharma came out to bat at No. 4 in the 12th over. The fourth ball of spin he faces, Jitesh showed both the intent to take the risk and the skill to pull it off. He advanced at Kartikeya, creating momentum, and then went hard at it. The complexion of the game changed once he came out to bat: Kings scored 120 in the remaining 50 balls even though Mumbai went on to chase 215 down.
Jitesh is early into his career, and there will be challenges as he continues being successful, but he is a rare Indian batter. Among Indians with 2000 T20 runs, only Prithvi Shaw and Suryakumar Yadav - both top-order batters - are faster.
Batting as he does lower down the order, Jitesh plays fewer deliveries than the superstars of T20 do. He doesn't have the luxury of getting his eye in or assessing the pitch. Since the start of 2021, only two batters around the world - Tim David and Liam Livingstone - have been quicker than Jitesh in innings of under 30 balls.
Nobody who has scored 750 runs in all of T20 cricket has been as quick as Jitesh when batting outside the top three. Andre Russell is a good 11 runs per 100 balls behind at No. 2.
These are pretty cool numbers to have, but that's not what make him unique. Hardik Pandya managed to do this for Mumbai for a season or two before becoming an anchor batter. Rahul Tewatia has slotted nicely into the late-order hitter role. Unlike others, Jitesh averages 37 while striking at 177 per 100 balls from No. 4 onwards. That's what makes him rare: low number of balls per innings, high impact, remarkable consistency when playing a high-tempo game.
ESPNcricinfo's stats team put more refined numbers to Jitesh's qualities. Since the start of 2021, Jitesh has begun his knock in the back half of the innings 27 times. Over the same period, 525 batters have started batting in the second half of the innings 15 times or more. None among those 525 strike as quickly as Jitesh's 193.8. Rilee Rossouw comes close with 192.2, but he averages 19.9. Jitesh has been scoring 43.8 runs per dismissal in these innings. Only one among the 525 - Cam Fletcher of New Zealand - averages higher than Jitesh, but his strike-rate is 150.
To make sure this is not just too many not-outs inflating Jitesh's average, ESPNcricinfo looked at the number of innings of 30 or above at a strike-rate of 150 and above. Only AB de Villiers (eight out of 26) and Adam Hose (five in 15) have managed such efforts more frequently than Jitesh, who has done that in eight out of his 27 knocks.
These numbers match the visual evidence from his two seasons in the IPL. Nor does a glaring weakness stand out. No style of batting is an obvious match-up from the IPL ball-by-ball data. Legspin seems to be his favourite: he has struck at more than two a ball against 47 balls of legspin bowled at him in the IPL. The only place less than hot on his wagon wheel is the area between short third and point where he has struck at 130. His favourite areas are down the ground and through midwicket and covers, but when he does strike behind square, he takes full toll.
It is early days yet and teams will come up with better plans to test him, but Jitesh might just be the T20 batter India have been looking for in the mold of Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson. Unlike Pant, he has played just 17 first-class matches, and only three since 2016. Nor does he have a great record in List A cricket. But he is not likely to be confused about his tempo when the inevitable India call-up arrives.
Here's hoping Jitesh doesn't start playing differently like many others once he starts playing for India. There is something in that team environment that turns hitters into anchors that he himself and the management will need to protect him against.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo