Matches (13)
T20 World Cup (3)
SL vs WI [W] (1)
WI Academy in IRE (1)
T20 Blast (8)
Feature

Abhishek Sharma, a top-order whirlwind India has never seen before

He is an hyper-aggressive dasher but can also be the all-round package who can fit among India's ranks

Deivarayan Muthu
20-May-2024
An uncapped Indian batter is transforming T20 cricket like nobody else has done in the past. He is facing fewer than 30 balls in each innings, but his output is so huge that he has more runs than the likes of Sunil Narine, Phil Salt, Rohit Sharma, Faf du Plessis and Rishabh Pant this IPL.
Abhishek Sharma has tallied 467 runs in 13 innings, and none of those have lasted more than 28 balls. ESPNcricinfo's Shiva Jayaraman confirms that he is the first batter to score more than 400 runs in a franchise T20 league season without ever facing 30 balls in an innings.
Abhishek goes hard from the get-go and keeps going hard because he doesn't have the fear of failure. His team Sunrisers Hyderabad also understand that it's a high-risk approach, but they've given him the license and role clarity to operate with this hyper-aggression. It helps Abhishek that he has got Travis Head at the other end when he takes first strike, and that SRH have Pat Cummins, who is a capable batter, slotted in as low as at No. 9.
Abhishek himself was surprised with his numbers in IPL 2024. "Oh, wow! I would never think [of] going to such a tournament and playing at such a strike rate," Abhishek said after Head and he had mowed down 166 in a mere 58 balls against Lucknow Super Giants earlier this month.
"Thanks to the [team] management, I would say, [for] the way they've shown faith in me, and I guess it was pretty much clear for the batters, and I just went there and enjoyed myself. I think [it's down to] the hard work I put in before the tournament; that's showing a bit now. And special thanks to Yuvi [Yuvraj Singh] paaji, Brian [Lara], and of course my dad, [who] is my first coach. So they put a lot of hard work on me, and I'm just trying do what they've taught me and it's going really well."
In the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy 2023-24, India's domestic T20 tournament, Abhishek had performed a similar role for Punjab at the top, smacking 485 runs in ten innings at a strike rate of 192.46, the best among batters who had faced at least 120 balls in the tournament. Abhishek's success, which was central to Punjab winning the title, should have given him more confidence heading into the IPL.
SRH, too, valued his domestic form and had him opening the batting along with Mayank Agarwal before it became Travishek.
Abhishek was originally a left-arm fingerspinner who could bat a bit down the order. But he has improved his batting so much that he has been pushed right up to the top, and has no obvious weakness. He is strong against every variety of spin, including offspinners who take the ball away from him. Against pacers, he has struck at a healthy 148.42 across IPLs, which suggests he can be a pace-hitter as well.
And he has married those skills with game-awareness. In the league fixture against Chennai Super Kings on a sluggish Hyderabad surface that would slow down even further, Abhishek lined up Mukesh Choudhary for 4, 0, 6, 0, 7nb, 6, 4. Left-hand batter maximising his scoring options against a left-arm seamer slanting the ball into him. Abhishek needed just one over to tilt the game SRH's way.
Now, even Cummins - his franchise captain and one of the best bowlers in the world - is scared to bowl to him, as Cummins confessed after SRH chased 215 down against Punjab Kings, with Abhishek smashing 66 off 28 balls. Tom Moody, his former coach at SRH who is currently an expert at ESPNcricinfo, is so impressed by his progress that he believes Abhishek can make a smooth transition into the India side in the near future.
"It's always nice to see a young, emerging talent capture the imagination and have an impact in that season. Abhishek is the stand out [uncapped Indian player] for me," Moody told Timeout, ESPNcricinfo's show. "What he has done this year consistently at the top of the order for Sunrisers has been wonderful to watch, and I can just see him be accelerated to the Indian team in a heartbeat."
Abhishek can also bowl quickish left-arm spin and backspinning arm balls in the powerplay, though SRH haven't needed his other skill that much this IPL. It could, however, give India options if he makes that step-up, considering the national team doesn't have too many batters who can pitch in with the ball.
"He is a genuine match-winner. What we haven't seen a lot of is what he's capable of doing with the ball," Moody said. "So he's a great all-round package, but it has just been refreshing to see his ball-striking."
Kolkata Knight Riders have a well-rounded bowling attack, including two of the best spinners in the IPL, but if Abhishek gets going, he could decimate them in under 30 balls and put SRH in the final.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo