Mohit Sharma in the India blues; he last turned out for the national side in 2015. © Getty Images

Mohit Sharma in the India blues; he last turned out for the national side in 2015. © Getty Images

A week before the 2015 World Cup, Ishant Sharma, the senior Indian paceman, was ruled out of the tournament owing to a knee injury sustained in January, during the fourth Test of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Sydney.

Ishant’s injury opened the World Cup door for Mohit Sharma to join in as the third wheel of India’s pace attack. In the weeks that followed, Mohit convinced Indian fans that losing Ishant was not a blow to their World Cup dreams.

He grabbed his opportunity with both hands, bowling rigidly disciplined lines and lengths to complement Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav. He ended the campaign as a revelation, scalping 13 wickets in eight matches at an impressive economy of 4.98. His unique tic of barraging six deliveries every over at the same spot and in keeping with the field fulfilled MS Dhoni’s requirement of a consistent pace bowler.

The pace attack hasn’t exactly been India’s traditional strength, but the three quicks stood out by charging in with short deliveries while perpetually clocking over 140 kmph. Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, recognised the courage of pitching it short and said, “The Indian bowling has been a huge difference in the World Cup as compared to the Test series against Australia and the tri-series (where India lost all four matches, to Australia and England).”

Mohit seemed to fit right in and set to make it big, but a dip in form and multiple injuries kept him out of the squad. He hasn’t been able to make it back in more than two years, instead seeing other pacers seal their spots in the national side. Mohit last wore national colors in October 2015, in a home series against South Africa.

The Indian Premier League offers Mohit the chance to stake another claim to regain his spot, but he believes it’s only possible with planning and first getting back into the Haryana side.

Mohit is setting himself short-term goals and he is keen to do well for Kings XI Punjab. © BCCI

Mohit is setting himself short-term goals and he is keen to do well for Kings XI Punjab. © BCCI

“I set short-term goals. First, I need to perform in IPL and then see where it goes,” Mohit, the Kings XI Punjab quick, tells Wisden India. “But I still believe that if you want to represent India, you need to do well in domestic cricket. IPL is a platform but domestic cricket will help you prosper as a cricketer.”

As is the case with any fast bowler, Mohit is prone to injuries. A back injury, which sidelined him from the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy, was the most unfortunate development for the 29-year-old pacer. Haryana’s regular captain only played one Ranji game, against Kerala in Lahli.

“Definitely it was a setback because I couldn’t be part of the tournament,” he rues. “It was the first match and I was prepared and trained but unfortunately, things didn’t go the way I had planned.

“It did hurt, but it’s in the past. Now I have to focus on IPL and prepare for the next domestic season.”

An injury is a nightmare for any athlete. It means time lost at the gym, sitting out games, and feeling defeated. It’s not just physical but mental strength which helps a player come through the trying period of rehabilitation.

“It affects you psychologically, it’s difficult to fight back for any player,” he concedes. “The toughest part is sitting at home and watching your friends play while you are recovering. But it depends on how good the physiotherapist is.”

Amit Tyagi, the new addition to the support staff this season in the Punjab franchise as the physio, shared the state camp with Mohit.

“I was lucky that we got Amit Tyagi,” Mohit agrees. “He has known me for seven years. He is familiar with my body, all credit goes to him for my recovery.”

This is Mohit’s second year with Punjab, and he has quickly grown into one of their preferred death-bowling options. That was evident in their game against Chennai Super Kings on Sunday (April 15), when he bowled two crucial overs at the death, including successfully defending 17 in the final over to a rampant MS Dhoni.

Over the last few years, Mohit has silently become one of the go-to bowlers for captains at the death. He is among the Indian bowlers to develop a back-of-hand slower ball, among other variations which have often helped him bemuse batsman. Mohit says he ‘loves’ situations like the one on Sunday that give him a chance to put his hand up.

“I enjoy responsibility and love it when the captain hands over the ball to you in tough situations,” he says. “There is no pressure on me. Everyone knows his job, which makes it easier. I feel a team needs to work as a unit. For a team to perform, its bowling side needs to be strong.”

Being among the more experienced bowler in the side also means working with younger colleagues. Mohit says he is enjoying working with the youngsters, and is particularly by Mujeeb Ur Rahman, the Afghanistan teenager who is slowly becoming an International sensation after his efforts saw Afghanistan qualify for the World Cup 2019 in England.

“He is very confident and has to be, since he did so well in the 2018 World Cup Qualifiers,” Mohit says. “He is a good listener and he will improve because of this quality of his.

“He will turn out to be the mystery bowler this season. He is a natural bowler and it’s very difficult to get a read on him in the nets. For any new batsman, it will take a good amount of time o adjust to his action and variations. Meanwhile, Mujeeb can strike out one or two which is an added bonus for the team.”

In many ways, Punjab’s bowlers are fortunate this season to have the only bowling captain in the competition in R Ashwin. Having already played with the offspinner in the Indian side, and for Chennai Super Kings, Mohit was full of praise of his leader.

“We have played together before and he is a very proactive captain,” Mohit says. “Being a bowler, he knows how to set fields and it’s comfortable for me too as he understands the bowler’s needs. It’s also good to have a bowling coach (Venkatesh Prasad) who has been a fast bowler.”

Only time will tell if Mohit can earn his place back in the Indian side. For now, things are set up perfectly for him to make a mark in the IPL.