In June 2014, I received a video clip on WhatsApp from a friend who was passionate about domestic cricket. The clip, though intended to expose the sub-standard umpiring in domestic cricket, was not startling in itself.
It was an era before domestic cricket games were streamed on OTT platforms. It was cut through the BCCI’s own six-camera setup, primarily created to monitor umpires’ performance.
After fact-checking it with the bowler involved, it was confirmed that it was from a Vijay Hazare Trophy match between Uttar Pradesh and Vidarbha, played at the K.L. Saini Ground in Jaipur in March 2014.
The bowler — U.P. captain Piyush Chawla — attempted a flipper. The batter — wicketkeeper-opener Jitesh Sharma, playing only his third List A game — rocked on the backfoot, pulled the ball and almost fell on the stumps. He had dislodged the bails with his foot and the leg stump was bent.
Faiz Fazal, at the non-striker’s end, called for a single. The striker took off, stuttered for a while since he was disappointed to have hit-wicket himself but still completed the run. Fazal completed the run, placed the bail on the stumps and straightened the stump.
Neither the wicketkeeper nor the slip fielder nor Chawla — and even both the umpires, Milind Pathan and Navdeep Singh — realised that the batter was hit-wicket. All of them were following the ball.
As Chawla confirmed to The Hindu, Jitesh was batting in the 20s then. The partnership continued. And he went on to score a hundred — and an opening partnership of 183 with Faiz — to set up Vidarbha’s facile six-wicket win.
Cut to January 4 this year, and the same batter, Jitesh Sharma, has earned his maiden call-up to India’s squad. Once Sanju Samson was ruled out after digging his knee into the sub-standard Wankhede Stadium outfield in the series-opener, Jitesh was selected as the back-up wicketkeeper for the second and third T20Is versus Sri Lanka.‘
Thanks to his relentless toil for almost a decade, Jitesh has moved closest to realising his ultimate dream of representing India. The Amravati boy may have made heads roll due to his stellar batting in the middle and as a finisher for Punjab Kings in Indian Premier League’s 2022 edition.
But he has been one of the most effective limited overs cricketers for Vidarbha. Despite being unable to cement his place in Vidarbha’s Ranji Trophy side and having been stamped as a white-ball specialist, Jitesh continued to believe in himself.
When the Mumbai Indians signed him at a base price of ₹10 lakh ahead of IPL 2016, he thought he made it into the big league. However, despite being around for two seasons, with MI possibly having its best team out on the park, Jitesh could not get a look-in.
For the next four seasons, he was trying his best to impress IPL scouts and emerging as a vital cog in Vidarbha’s limited overs set-up. Then came the 2022 Auction and Punjab Kings bought him at his base price of ₹20 lakh.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Jitesh is unlikely to make his national debut any time soon but thoroughly deserves the call-up. One can only wonder whether Chawla, the veteran leggie, will remind him of that incident in March 2014 the next time they meet, possibly during IPL 2023.