Rise of new pace kid

H S Sharath details his eventful journey from a non-descript village to Karnataka Ranji team

Rise of new pace kid

About five years ago, H S Sharath travelled to Mandya PS College for a kabaddi tournament with the K Joge Gowda High School team from Hosagavi, a village nearly 25 kilometers away from Mandya.

It would have been an uneventful journey if Sharath had not decided to watch the college cricket team in action at nets. The sight of a group of college cricketers sweating it out got embossed on the imagination of that strapping 15-year-old, and the first thing he did on his return to the school was to ask the coaches whether he too can be a cricketer. Seeing his strong physique, the school coaches nodded to his wish but Sharath wanted to become a batsman.

 “I used to watch a lot of cricket on TV and I was very fascinated by Virender Sehwag and his kind of batting and I had dream of batting like him. But the school coaches, after seeing my body structure and height (6’2), adviced me to take up fast bowling,” Sharath, enjoying a successful second season for Karnataka in Ranji Trophy, said. That later Sharath dismissed Sehwag during a Ranji Trophy league match this season at Delhi only vindicated his coaches’ decision to make him a fast bowler.

Entering the world of cricket was a completely different experience for a kid who till then participated only in kabaddi, athletics, some rural games and occasional tennis ball cricket. From that relatively chaotic area, he was ushered into organised cricket coaching, and terms like outswing -- which he says came naturally to him even at that stage -- inswing, bouncer, yorker etc swept him off his feet. It was days of uncertainty for Sharath, who couldn’t decide whether he chose the right career path as a cricketer.
 “I didn’t have a bike that time and my college was 25 kilometers away. So, I used to take a bus for the 10’o clock class that ended at 3 pm.

Then I will rush for practice that lasted till 6. The last bus out of that place was at 6.30 pm and it reached a village next to Hosagavi. It was some three kilometers away and I used to walk in the night all alone back to my village. My mind was a little muddled those days and the walk seemed longer because I wasn’t sure how successful I would be as a cricketer. It was too big a burden for a village kid. So, now it feels good to be where I am after all those struggles,” said Sharath, who took 32 wickets from seven matches this season before a shoulder injury during the quartefinal match against Uttar Pradesh forced him to sit out of the semifinal against Punjab at Mohali and final against Mahrashtra at Hyderabad.

However, meetings with Mahadev, his coach at Vidyaranya Cricket Club, and Nagesh, his current manager, quelled the apprehensions in his young mind. “I was worried about the future as it would have been a tough situation for me if I didn’t do well in cricket. But Mahadev sir and Nagesh sir said giving your hundred per cent is more important and that sort of calmed me down.”

Here he also credits his father Shivalingaiah, who is a farmer and also plies autorickshaw to meet both ends, for encouraging him to walk down his desired route. “He is a great source of inspiration and never forced me to do anything and he would go any extent to support me.”

Joining Vidyaranya club (2009-10) and later Herons Cricket Club (2011) in Bangalore developed the cricketer and pace bowler in him. The stints at those clubs helped him to make progress from a one-trick pony. Began predominantly as an out-swing bowler, Sharath added more variations like in-swinger to his bowling at the nets of these two clubs and also the professional and competitive atmosphere of the Bangalore league fanned his ambition to achieve bigger things.

“I did not know much about leather ball cricket then. I was also not serious about cricket in the beginning even when I was selected for U-16 Mysore Zone and later for under-19 team. I was not sure how big it was. I always thought kabaddi and athletics were big. But after spending a year with those clubs I understood that I was part of something big. I realised the significance of having more variations and it certainly helped me to mature as a bowler. I have also watched KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal (his team-mates at Herons) at nets and how serious they were in training and how ambitious they were to play at higher levels. Then they were selected for Karnataka senior team and that’s when I realised that even I can be like them if I worked hard and that prompted me to take cricket seriously,” said Sharath.

Some good outings for Karnataka ‘A’, under-25 and under-22 sides fetched him the much-dreamt about first-class debut last season against Uttar Pradesh at Meerut. “I was nervous in my first match, and seniors in the side told me to play the match like any other league match. There were players like Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif in the UP line-up and it was very exciting to bowl against players whom I used to watch on TV. It was an incredible feeling to get the wicket of an international batsman like Raina. It was a dream to get five wickets in my first match itself. The other match I remember well was against Mumbai when I got rid of Wasim Jaffer (at Bangalore in December, 2013). He is a very difficult batsman to dismiss but I got him for a duck, trapping him leg before.”

 Is it an unnerving experience to bowl against the run machines of domestic cricket? “Not really. If you bowl at the right areas and stick to your plans then batsmen -- however famous he is -- will get out at some point of time. Also, bowling against such big players and often on unresponsive wickets helps me to sharpen my craft, adding more variations and such matches are a big lesson for me. My stock ball is one that goes away from batsman but I got Jaffer with one that jagged back. It was a satisfying wicket not only because Jaffer is an experienced batsman but I got him with inswinger that I developed through working hard at nets. It was also a very satisfying win because it was Karnataka’s first outright win over Mumbai in Ranji Trophy,” said Sharath, who will now have a chance to further develop his craft under the watchful eyes of Australian pace legend Glenn McGrath at the MRF Pace Foundation.

 It has been a massive fortune for Sharath to have an experienced campaigner like R Vinay Kumar near him to give the right advice and Abhimanyu Mithun is his room-mate. “It’s great to have those two players around me as I learnt about work ethics from them and how to improve your bowling skills. Mansoor sir (Karnataka’s bowling coach) too has been very helpful in telling me how to plan about a certain batsman. As for Vinay and Mithun, they have a lot of experience playing for Karnataka and India. It’s a big lesson for me to watch them preparing for a match, and, hopefully, I also can reach their league and play for India.” 

Karnataka have gifted some fine pacemen to Indian cricket like Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad, and this could be Sharath’s turn.

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