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Feature

How amateur Suyash Sharma signed up for KKR's magical mystery spin tour

Having kept at it in Delhi club cricket after losing his coach to Covid-19, the talented teenager's world changed one day in December 2022 with the tap of an auctioneer's hammer

Sreshth Shah
Sreshth Shah
13-Apr-2023
At the trials, Suyash Sharma impressed the KKR staff, who quickly recognised X-factor potential in him  •  BCCI

At the trials, Suyash Sharma impressed the KKR staff, who quickly recognised X-factor potential in him  •  BCCI

In late 2022, former India pacer Pankaj Singh got in touch with Kolkata Knight Riders' assistant coach Abhishek Nayar. Pankaj, the newly appointed Delhi Under-25 coach, had a recommendation to make. There was a new spinner, yet to play top-flight T20s, who was making heads turn in the Delhi circuit, and with IPL teams seeking new names for trials, Pankaj put forward the name of Suyash Sharma.
Between IPL seasons, scouts from every franchise use their network of coaches and friends - mostly former cricketers - to find out about new talent. And Knight Riders were not the only side to learn about Suyash. Mumbai Indians - famed for their elite scouting that unearthed Jasprit Bumrah, Hardik Pandya and Krunal Pandya - were also interested, and the teenager went for trials at both franchises.
At the Knight Riders trial, Suyash impressed, and their staff - Nayar, assistant bowling coach Omkar Salvi and analyst AR Srikkanth - quickly recognised X-factor potential. With the murmurs that an Impact Player rule could come into play, he seemed a perfect fit for Knight Riders. At the auction, he was bought for INR 20 lakh (USD 24,000 approx.). Knight Riders' CEO Venky Mysore would go on to say that he felt relieved that the franchise did not have to splurge for Suyash, having kept aside a significant portion of their small auction purse - they went in with the least money to spend - for the spinner.
That auction was the first time the wider cricketing world heard of Suyash before last week, when he made his IPL and T20 debut against Royal Challengers Bangalore, and finished with 3 for 30 in a match-winning cause.
For most young cricketers, a debut like that is nothing short of a dream. But Suyash's thinking is a bit different, it seems.
"Wickets don't matter so much to me," Suyash told ESPNcricinfo after his debut. "For me, my bowling graph matters, to see how many good balls I have landed. Whether I take five or seven wickets, it does not matter. What matters is if I've bowled well, and if I have, then even a one-wicket spell gives me satisfaction."

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Only 19, Suyash comes from Bhajanpura in northeast Delhi. He wanted to be a batter like his elder brother, but soon learned that to stand out in Delhi's competitive age-group circuit, he had to do something different. So he switched to spin bowling. After working closely with Delhi-based coach Suresh Batra - a childhood coach of Virat Kohli's - he developed a fast action like Rashid Khan and added a googly to his repertoire which, from the hand, is not discernible from his legbreaks.
Then, when Suyash was 17, Batra succumbed to Covid-19. Left unmoored with no mentor, Suyash approached another Delhi coach, Randhir Singh, for help. Randhir roped Suyash into the DDCA club-cricket competitions, and he enrolled with Madras Club.
Madras Club in Delhi is famous for being the place where Virender Sehwag made his runs in his formative years, but a lesser-known fact is that it has been a breeding ground for spinners. Yuzvendra Chahal and Pawan Negi made their mark here, as did other IPL spinners like Pardeep Sahu and Tejas Baroka.
"As soon as I began my walk home, the phones started ringing to say kaam ho gaya hai [it has happened]. My uncle was crying, my family were screaming with joy. It was an emotional moment."
Suyash Sharma on being picked at the IPL auction
This is where Suyash polished his craft. He increased his pace and developed a strong wrist to allow his googlies and legbreaks to be delivered with the same speed. That made it tougher for batters to pick him, and he was unleashed as a non-paid amateur in the club circuit. That led to a Delhi U-25 call-up, and the IPL trials.
But trials are relatively common for the innumerable amateur Indian players who dream big. For many, the stage is so big that they fail to impress, daunted by the watching scouts. If they do get past this first test, they are are left competing with Ranji-level players on the IPL auction list and, with no professional experience yet, there remains the question of whether such players could stand up and deliver under pressure with a million eyes watching on TV.
So, despite the positive feedback from the trials with Knight Riders and Mumbai, Suyash knew an IPL contract was still far away. Suyash returned to the Delhi club circuit and tried to focus on that. But December 23, 2022, soon arrived, and it turned out to be the first day of the rest of his life.
"I was returning from a trial match for the Delhi U-25 red-ball team," Suyash says. "I was tired and had just got off from the rickshaw. I was watching the auction a few times but since my name was coming later, I didn't catch mine.
"As soon as I began my walk home, the phones started ringing to say kaam ho gaya hai [it has happened]. My uncle was crying, my family were screaming with joy. It was an emotional moment."
Having struggled with his father's battle with cancer for a few years, and the death of his coach, and taken the much tougher path towards becoming a recognised cricketer, now everything was falling into place.

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In the IPL, no team has been as obsessed with mystery spinners as Knight Riders. They've been a core part of the side's plans right from the days of Ajantha Mendis, Sachithra Senanayake and KC Cariappa to more recently, when Sunil Narine was unconditionally backed despite an action change and Varun Chakravarthy was persisted with even after a horror IPL debut.
At most other franchises, being the squad's third mystery spinner would mean you're a back-up of a back-up, but at Knight Riders Suyash could be more. His moment came when he was duly introduced in Knight Riders' second game of the season, as an Impact Player, at the change of innings against Royal Challengers.
"I was prepared for this, but got nervous when I stood at my bowling mark. I cannot explain the feeling. When I had thought about my future debut, I was excited, but when I was there, I got nervous."
Suyash Sharma on debuting at the IPL
"I was prepared for this, but got nervous when I stood at my bowling mark," Suyash says. "I cannot explain the feeling. When I had thought about my future debut, I was excited, but when I was there, I got nervous. At my run-up, there was so much shor [noise] from the crowd, that I got a bit flustered.
"But I had been visualising my first ever ball for a long time. I practice visualisation a lot. So I wanted to start off with my best ball right from the first delivery."
Even though Suyash's bowling wasn't too accurate on debut, one thing that was undeniable was his ability to make the ball turn. Narine and Chakravarthy rely on variations to deceive batters but Suyash uses flight and sharp spin.
Sporting a headband to keep his long hair out of his face, Suyash's first ball to Dinesh Karthik was more half-tracker than good length, and two balls later when he repeated the same to Michael Bracewell, he was pulled for six. The first over went for nine and for a short moment it felt like maybe the step up to the IPL was a bit too much too soon.
But he came back strongly to outfox both Anuj Rawat and Karthik in his second over, using his flight and turn to have them both top-edging slogs to short third. When Suyash hit Karn Sharma on his pads next over, he displayed the natural confidence he's known to possess by going up to the captain Nitish Rana and demanding a review. Replays showed Karn was caught at first slip courtesy an edge, but even if he didn't edge it, he was certainly lbw.
His spell impressed head coach Chandrakant Pandit enough for the youngster to get a special mention after the game.
"He is just inexperienced but he has shown very good attitude," Pandit said. "And it is fighting spirit that he has been showing in his camps."
Currently, Suyash has four different deliveries he is willing to talk about - the googly, the legbreak, the backspinner and the flipper. He says that he has been practicing more variations but will reveal them only when he's ready. His challenge will be to stay mysterious as other teams actively look to demystify his bowling as he gets more game time.
But that's a challenge that Suyash is up for and he is in safe hands with Pandit, bowling coach Bharat Arun, and team-mates Narine and Chakravarthy guiding him. It's been a while since an Indian spinner has drawn so much interest in such a short time, and if Suyash can keep focusing on his bowling graphs instead of the noise, it just might be the start of something significant.

Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx