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IPL 2024: India's T20 future is secure with Abhishek Sharma and Tilak Varma

The star performers in the Mumbai Indians versus Sunrisers Hyderabad IPL match, which saw over 500 runs being scored, are performing at their very best and hoping to grab a spot in India's squad for the upcoming T20 World Cup

Published: Mar 28, 2024 06:17:07 PM IST
Updated: Mar 28, 2024 06:23:35 PM IST

IPL 2024: India's T20 future is secure with Abhishek Sharma and Tilak VarmaSunrisers Hyderabad's Abhishek Sharma celebrates after scoring a half-century (50 runs) during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on March 27, 2024. Image: Noah Seelam / AFP

March 27 was a record-breaking day in the Indian Premier League (IPL). The Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad witnessed a run-fest with over 500 runs scored in two innings—the most in any IPL game. Sunrisers Hyderabad piled up a massive total of 277 runs, the highest score in IPL’s history, and Mumbai Indians nearly chased the target, falling 31 runs short.

Quite a few batters from both teams played blistering knocks, but two youngsters—Abhishek Sharma and Tilak Varma—impressed the most. While Heinrich Klaasen (80 not out off 34 balls), an accomplished international batter, was the highest scorer from both teams, these two batters left an indelible mark, displaying how they are ready for the challenge at the highest level.

Sharma, a 23-year-old top-order batter from Punjab, has been around for a while. He first came into the limelight in 2017 when he was picked to represent India in the ICC U-19 World Cup after his brilliant performances in the domestic U-19 tournaments. However, the then-17-year-old failed to make an impression in the tournament.

His peers from the squad—Shubman Gill and Prithvi Shaw—went on to play for India, while Sharma was lost in transition. At the 2018 IPL auction, he was signed up by Delhi Daredevils (now Delhi Capitals) and despite scoring a whirlwind unbeaten knock of 46 runs off 19 balls on debut, he played just three matches that season.

Ahead of the next IPL season, he was bought by Sunrisers Hyderabad, but barely got any chances to play in the first edition with the new franchise. But in IPL 2020 and 2021, Sunrisers gave him game time—he played eight matches each season—but unfortunately, he returned with dismal numbers. He was counted among those talented players who fail to perform at the big stage.

Before he would completely disappear like many other young players, Sharma turned it around in domestic cricket ahead of IPL 2022. He not only improved his batting but also worked on his left-arm spin bowling. His domestic numbers prompted Sunrisers Hyderabad to bid aggressively for him at the auction. Despite having failed for two seasons for them, they showed huge faith in him by signing him for Rs6.5 crore in the IPL 2022 auction.

This time Sharma scored 426 runs in 14 matches at an average of 30 and a strike rate of 133. Last year, however, the left-handed batter again remained inconsistent in the IPL, but continued to do well for Punjab in the domestic season. Before coming to IPL 2024, he looked at his best, making 485 runs in 10 matches to end up as the second-highest run-getter in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy—India’s premier T20 domestic tournament.

Knowing that this could be his year to shine, Sharma started IPL 2024 on a good note, scoring a 19-ball 32 in the first match against Kolkata Knight Riders. That was just a trailer though. On March 27, he showed what he was capable of. The youngster completely tore off the Mumbai Indians bowling as he scored the fastest fifty (off 16 balls) for Sunrisers Hyderabad in IPL history. He finished with 63 runs off 23 balls, earning him the Player of the Match award. 

Also read: IPL 2024: Ten uncapped players to look forward to

“The secret sauce of my performance (today) would be that my parents had come today after so long to watch my match. Somewhere, I was boosted up as well that I had to perform in front of them,” Sharma said after the match.

Former India cricketer Yuvraj Singh lauded the youngster for this special knock. “Waah sir Abhishek waah 👏🏻 great innings but what a splendid shot to get out on!” he wrote on X after the match.

IPL 2024: India's T20 future is secure with Abhishek Sharma and Tilak VarmaMumbai Indians' Tilak Varma (R) plays a shot as Sunrisers Hyderabad's wicketkeeper Heinrich Klaasen reacts during the Indian Premier League (IPL) Twenty20 cricket match between Sunrisers Hyderabad and Mumbai Indians at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Hyderabad on March 27, 2024. Image: Noah Seelam / AFP

Tilak Varma

Chase a massive target of 278 runs, it seemed that the match was over for Mumbai Indians before they even came out to bat. But as they say, cricket is a game of great uncertainties. Surprisingly, Mumbai Indians responded so strongly that it looked like they would chase down the total for most part of the innings till Sunrisers tightened it up in the death overs.

Mumbai Indians were about to do an impossible, largely because of a heroic knock by 21-year-old Varma. The youngster has debuted for India in both T20I and ODIs. He had a breakthrough IPL last year, scoring 343 runs in 11 matches at an average of 42.88 and a staggering strike rate of 164.11.

Varma’s cricketing journey began when he was 11—he would play tennis ball cricket around Hyderabad. Coming from a humble family—his father Namboori Nagaraju was an electrician—it wasn’t easy for Varma to decide to pursue cricket as a career. But cricket coach Salim Bayash was like a messiah to him and helped him embrace this journey.

Varma amassed huge runs for Hyderabad in age-group cricket and was picked for India in the 2020 ICC U-19 World Cup. However, he got to bat in just three innings and made a total of 86 runs. He got the much-needed spotlight after a breakout domestic season in 2021.

The left-handed batter played some blinders in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and was spotted by Mumbai Indians’ scouts. The franchise grabbed him for Rs1.7 crore in the IPL 2022 auction. He immediately made an impact by scoring 397 runs in 14 matches in his debut season. An impressive IPL 2023—in which he displayed a wide range of strokes with the bat—prompted the Indian selectors to give him a look in the Indian T20I team.

In August 2023, Varma made his international debut against West Indies and scored a good-looking 39 runs off 22 balls in the first match. He has since been a regular in India’s T20I team and is expected to board the plane to the United States for the upcoming T20 World Cup. With his shining knock on Wednesday, he has only bolstered his chances of making it to India’s World Cup squad. 

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