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Match Analysis

Sixy Ashutosh Sharma is making up for lost time

He missed four years of top-flight cricket after being dropped by MP but has reignited his career as a six-hitter in domestic cricket and IPL

Ashish Pant
Ashutosh Sharma is a six-hitting machine. In 18 T20 innings, he has clubbed 43 sixes; that's an average of 2.38 sixes per game. He hit seven of these on Thursday to revive Punjab Kings' floundering chase of 193 and put them on the brink of an unlikely win against Mumbai Indians.
But it was that one six off the penultimate ball of the 13th over against Jasprit Bumrah which is likely to linger in his - and the people's - consciousness for a while though his blitz ended in vain.
Sure, it was a free-hit, but this was against Bumrah - the leading wicket-taker in IPL 2024, going at an economy rate of under six this season. Before this, Bumrah had conceded just two sixes in the tournament. But Ashutosh wasn't going to let an opportunity pass. He anticipated the yorker, went low and across his off stump, down on one knee and swept Bumrah over deep backward square-leg.
No wonder Ashutosh was smiling ear to ear as he walked across to his partner and bumped fists with a little jump and child-like enthusiasm. "That was a dream to sweep Bumrah for a six and it came off today. I have been practising these shots, and I played it against the best bowler in the world," Ashutosh said after the game.
Ashutosh has batted four times in IPL 2024 and each time walked in with Kings in trouble. On debut against Gujarat Titans, he came in with the required rate at 11.11 (50 off 27), and took Kings to an unlikely win with an unbeaten 15-ball 33. In his next game, the required rate was 15.33 (69 off 27) when he arrived. Kings lost by two runs.
Against Mumbai, Ashutosh had to rebuild the chase after Kings had slipped to 77 for 6 in the tenth over. It was the first time that he was batting inside the first 15 overs in the IPL. At that stage, the asking rate was at 10.88 (116 off 64) and he hit the ground running.
The 25-year-old had earlier in an interview said he idolises Suryakumar Yadav and Glenn Maxwell. Both batters would have been proud of some of his wristy hits to the leg side and beyond. His first six, a nonchalant whip off Akash Madhwal over fine leg had Suryakumar, who had been subbed out after the first innings, nodding in approval in the Mumbai dugout. His reverse-scoop off the same bowler a few overs later was Maxwell written all over it.
ESPNcricinfo's forecaster had Kings' win probability at 1.88%. By the time he fell, on the first ball of the 18th over for a 28-ball 61, it was 76.13. Kings faltered at the finish once again, but that they eventually made it to within nine runs of Mumbai's total was down to Ashutosh's brilliance.
It isn't the first time that Ashutosh was showing off his six-hitting prowess. Barely six months back, he rewrote the record books when he slammed an 11-ball fifty for Railways against Arunachal Pradesh in a Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 clash, eclipsing Yuvraj Singh's record of the fastest T20 fifty by an Indian. He hit eight sixes and one four in that match and finished the tournament with a strike rate of 277.27 in six innings, the most for any batter who faced more than five balls. In this IPL, Ashutosh has been striking at 205.26.
But behind all the recent highs, there is a story of years of toil and heartbreaks. Born in Ratlam, a town in Madhya Pradesh, Ashutosh was just eight when he moved to Indore to hone his cricketing skills as his hometown did not have adequate facilities. Away from his parents, he was staying in a small accommodation and often didn't have money to eat. He even took up umpiring so that one meal was ensured. But joining the MPCA academy in Indore under the tutelage of former India batter Amay Khurasiya was the turning point of his life, according to Ashutosh.
"Amay Sir has played a very important role in my life," he said during a media interaction earlier this month. "He has taught me a lot of discipline and a lot of things about mental health. I have worked a lot with him with regard to my batting."
Ashutosh rose up the ranks, playing age-group cricket for MP, and soon made his senior debut at the 2018 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. The next season, he finished as the second-highest run-scorer for MP with 233 runs which included three half-centuries. But the following year, he fell out of favour with the MP set-up. It was heartbreaking for the then 22-year-old, who was given no explanations for his ouster.
"In 2019 I scored 84 runs in my last game for MP [against Puducherry]. Then next year, there was a professional coach who came in and he had his likes and dislikes. He did not like me and sat me out of the team," Ashutosh said without naming the coach. "Main bada depression me aa gaya tha [I went into depression]. That was the Covid time, so only 20 people used to travel, and I used to stay back at the hotel.
"I stayed at the hotel for one to two months. I was not even able to see the ground. All I did was go to the gym and come back to the room. I got really frustrated and slipped into depression. It was tough to come out of that. I kept thinking, where did I go wrong? I could not sleep for days. No one even said anything. I was driven out of the set-up without explanation. Those two to three years were pretty bad."
Ashutosh then found a new home at Railways. He was offered a job and made his debut for them in the 2023 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. While he missed out on playing top-flight cricket for four years, a move to Railways, he said with conviction, was what changed the course of his career. Two months later, he was picked by Kings in the accelerated round of the auction for his base price of INR 20 lakh.
Ashutosh credited the work put in the pre-season camp with the Kings' head of cricket development Sanjay Bangar and captain Shikhar Dhawan for his IPL success.
"In the pre-season, Sanjay sir told me that you are not a slogger, you play some extraordinary cricketing shots," Ashutosh said. "Believe in that. That one statement meant a lot to me. I was just focusing on timing the ball and playing cricketing shots."
Ashutosh has faced 76 balls in IPL 2024 and sent 13 of those over the ropes. Having missed plenty of top-flight cricket, Ashutosh is not just making up for lost time, but also doing it in style on the biggest T20 stage.

Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo