Ranji Trophy 2023-24: Vanshaj Sharma carries on his U-23 form for Jammu & Kashmir with fifer on debut

It’s extraordinary for a bowler to claim his maiden five-for on his Ranji Trophy debut. That’s what left-arm spinner Vanshaj Sharma has done.

He picked up five for 74 for Jammu and Kashmir versus Pondicherry on day one of the elite Group-D match in the sixth round of the ongoing Ranji Trophy at the Cricket Association of Pondicherry (CAP) Siechem ground here on Friday.

Neither did he know that he was to play the match, nor that the pitch was going to collude with the spinners to fell the batters.

“I didn’t know (about his debut). I reached last night (Thursday night) only. So, they told me this morning that I was playing!” said the 20-year-old after the first day’s play on Friday.

“I was playing the C.K. Nayudu (Trophy) match with Baroda in Jammu. That finished in the evening the day before yesterday (Wednesday). Yesterday (Thursday) morning, I left Jammu and reached here at around 10 p.m. I just came to the hotel, checked in, and slept. And then, today morning, I started playing,” he added.

He had picked up five for 65 versus Baroda and had been exceptional for Jammu & Kashmir with 27 wickets (three five-wicket hauls) from eight innings in the ongoing BCCI U-23 men’s Col. C.K. Nayudu Trophy, getting him a call-up to the Ranji squad.

He had also been instrumental in his team’s innings win over Pondicherry in Jammu with bowling figures of five for 33 and seven for 54.

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He says he was not given any big advice and was asked to carry on in the same vein when he received his cap on Friday morning. “I received my cap from captain Shubham Khajuria. Everyone was just saying, ‘Do what you have been doing’”.

Vanshaj remained cool after his maiden fifer, not celebrating his feat, whereas his senior teammate Abid Mushtaq kissed the ground when he took his fifth wicket. “I was more worried about the lead (Pondicherry’s 66-run first-innings lead), to be honest. Because it’s an important match for us if we want to qualify. That’s what was in my mind. Nothing else.”

He highlights a piece of advice from his teammate Abdul Samad that has helped improve his bowling. “I used to bowl a bit faster. So, he told me, ‘Slow the pace a bit, you’ll get more turn, because you’re quite tall.’”

And being tall, he looks up to tall left-arm spinners Mitchell Santner and Ashton Agar. “They are quite tall, so I’m quite relatable to them.”

He met and interacted with Santner in Delhi when he was a netbowler for the Delhi Capitals in the last season of the Indian Premier League (IPL).

“I didn’t have that much time (with Santner). I just took a pic (picture) and asked him if there’s any tip he can give me that could work for me. He said he didn’t know how I bowled and all. So, he simply said, ‘Just do what comes to you naturally’,” he said.

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