Image: MS Dhoni
Mohit Sharma has been through a lot of turmoil on both the professional and personal fronts. The 34-year-old Haryana cricketer was smashed for 84 runs in just seven overs by top South African batters in the fifth ODI at Wankhede on October 25, 2015, and virtually went off radar after the last of his 34 appearances for India.
On Thursday, Mohit was back at what he does best, tormenting the batter and returning figures of 2 for 18 in his four overs as Punjab Kings were restricted to 153 and Gujarat Titans won the IPL thriller by six wickets with just one ball left.
Mohit was only 27 in 2015 and had a very impressive ODI World Cup, earlier that year, under Mahendra Singh Dhoni's captaincy. His bowling in Australia had prompted former Pakistani pacer Aaqib Javed to praise his "heavy ball", which was a deceptive bouncer that came at a higher speed than expected.
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The glory days behind him, Mohit's form dropped alarmingly during the next three seasons of IPL before he was out of collective consciousness of an average Indian cricket fan.
What followed was the most difficult phase of his life. He found himself away from the ground for months after a surgery in 2019 and then the loss of his father due to cancer the following year left him shattered. Mohit tried to pick up the pieces and got back to playing limited-overs cricket for Haryana but it wasn't until last year that he got the opportunity he was looking for.
He travelled with eventual champions Gujarat Titans as a net bowler last season before finally making his debut for the team on Thursday. The 34-year-old Mohit made the most of the opportunity with a player of the match against Punjab Kings. He a made a name for himself at CSK under Dhoni's guidance but he has no hesitation in saying that the time with Titans has been the most enjoyable in his long IPL career.
"Majority of my IPL and India career has been under Mahi bhai. My good results have come under him, big credit goes to him for getting the best out of me. But what matters more for me is how much you are enjoying the game. 2013-2016 was the golden period in my career but in terms of environment it is the best I have experienced in the IPL," Mohit told PTI during an exclusive interview.
He is not the only one who raves about the atmosphere of the Hardik Pandya-led side which won the IPL on debut.
Mohit had replaced Yash Dayal for his first IPL game in three years after the latter had gone for five consecutive sixes in the previous game. However, he insisted the team has a "no replacement" policy.
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"Nobody replaces anyone in this team. Yash could have played but he had fever that is why he could not play. If I played, it was due to the circumstances. I spoken to him at length post match also. He was sitting with me after the game," Mohit said. "The whole credit goes to the management for creating this environment on and off the field. It is the most important thing for a franchise," he added.
Looking back at the time away from the game, Mohit said not being able to even step on the ground was tough. "It is tough to carry on when you can't see things going your way. The period post the surgery was frustrating, rehab was the toughest part as it can be boring. Yes if you are not selected you are disappointed but we play the game because we love it. The only bothering bit for me was not that I was not able to step on the ground.
"When I got fit, then COVID happened so I hardly got to play," he recalled.
The pillar of support during those tough times was his family and former BCCI treasurer Anirudh Chaudhry. The death of his father also changed his outlook towards life.
"Loss of a family member teaches you a lot and I had not experienced that before. It has taught me to focus on my well-being and not worry about pleasing others which we tend to do in this field.
"Thoda deep ho gaya (I got philosophical). I just try to be a better human being, that is most important thing. At the end of day, we all have an expiry date," said Mohit.
Mohit was spot on with slow bouncers and off cutters on Thursday after being brought into the attack in the middle overs. With Mohammad Shami, Joshua Little and Alazarri Joseph being the preferred new ball options, Mohit might have to continue bowling in the later stages of the innings.
"We start preparing for our role in the match two three net sessions in advance. At the moment we have a lot of new ball options but I have been bowling with the new ball in the nets and ready for that challenge as well." Mohit is among the veteran players in the IPL who are rolling back the years with their performances. The others being former India players Piyush Chawla, Amit Mishra and Karn Sharma, who are all well past their prime.
"There is no age factor in the IPL. Every year, you see something new in this league. It is just a coincidence that players who have done well in the past and not done well recently are performing right now.
"All players have their strengths. How you use them is the key. I have not developed anything new. It is all about assessing conditions and deciding what variations to use against a particular batter."
He also spoke about his relationship with India's premier bowler and Titans teammate Shami.
"Shami and I are like brothers. We have been playing together since we were 13-14. Played for India around the same time. Even when we are not playing together, we try to meet each other. We are attached personally not just professionally and that bonding is visible on the field," he added.
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