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Ashok Sharma’s journey from Rajasthan’s farms to bagging IPL riches

Who is Ashok Sharma?

Another fast bowler from Rajasthan’s conveyor belt of International and IPL players, namely Khaleel Ahmed and Kamlesh Nagarkoti, 19-year-old Ashok Sharma hails from Rampura, a village near Jaipur. While he is yet to play any domestic List A, T20 or First-class fixture, his rapid rise has seen him be a net bowler for Rajasthan Royals in 2021 before being a part of the Kolkata Knight Riders squad this season.

An out-and-out right-arm quick, Sharma bowls a mean bouncer and impressed former Rajasthan captain Dishant Yagnik, who noted his fluent run-up and the pace he generates in his delivery stride.

Background

Growing up, Sharma’s mother wanted him to focus on his studies and secure a government job but he took to cricket, instead, following his elder brother Akshay’s lead. Their father Nathulal, a farmer in Rampura, was sceptical about the uncertainty the sport brought with it as a career option and maintained that only one of the two brothers could take it up. As a result, Akshay dropped out and let Ashok have a shot at it.

His athleticism and passion convinced Nathulal to enrol him into the Aravalli Cricket Academy in Jaipur, run by former Delhi Daredevils and Rajasthan leg-spinner Vivek Yadav. Sharma initially used to travel over an hour from his village to the academy before moving to the academy’s hostel recently in order to be able to focus better on cricket.

Pandemic and setbacks

Having made it to the Rajasthan Under-19 team in 2019, the pandemic brought all cricket to a standstill. Lack of cricket was compounded by the unfortunate passing of his coach, Yadav, who died of a stomach cancer aggravated by Covid-19. When cricket did resume, Sharma contracted dengue and could’t perform at his usual best in the Challenger Trophy, which subsequently hindered his chances to make it into the 2021-22 CK Nayudu trophy squad, a stepping stone to potential India Under-19 selection.

IPL Journey and Auction 2022

During the pandemic, he attended the Red Bull trials in Jaipur and was picked as a net bowler for Rajasthan Royals in the first phase of the IPL hosted in India last year.

Dishant Yagnik, Rajasthan Royals’ fielding coach, sent out Sharma’s bowling videos to various IPL franchises after which he was invited to trials with the Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals.

Having impressed the KKR management, they made a special request for Sharma’s name to be added to the IPL Auction this year after he was ineligible to apply due to no domestic experience. The BCCI obliged. At the auction, KKR and RR both bid for him before the Knight Riders secured his services for INR 55 Lakhs.

At KKR, he is sharpening his skills under the tutelage of the bowling coach Bharat Arun, who has overseen the rise of many Indian bowlers in the National team since 2014.