Life pans out in strange ways, often handing you a treat sweeter than what you’d hoped for. This is how it was for Jitesh Sharma at least, who studied with a will to excel and join the air force. His preferred sport in childhood was also not cricket. He played football, and still managed to find his mojo in this beloved sport. Cricket really was his destiny, one could say.

The explosive batter scored 26 off 17 deliveries in the Tata Indian Premier League 2022 match against Chennai Super Kings. He capped off his debut with two memorable catches, off Ambati Rayudu and MS Dhoni, behind the stumps.

However, his childhood was not all cricket, or even sports. He comes from a setting with stories of being in the air force and more, leaving him chasing a dream of being in the country’s defence. Sharma’s childhood is an interesting one, and this is that story. In an exclusive interview with the Punjab Kings, Sharma lets us into his earlier years.

A childhood dream that faded away

“When I was a child, I was mostly attracted to defence. My background is quite attached to defence. My great grandfather was a driver for Subhash Chandra Bose when the Indian National Army was at the border. After listening to those stories, I was very attracted to getting a job in the Indian defence,” Sharma spoke of his childhood dream.

Although he plays for Vidarbha, his father is from Himachal Pradesh, where he also grew up listening to stories of people braving wars to keep the country safe. “He always talks about the country. He is always worried about politics and the future of the country. Hence, I was never attracted to cricket. I only started playing gully cricket as a child,” the batter said.

Talk of being spotted!

It was this gully cricket, played with a plastic ball, that caught the attention of a renowned coach in that area. A coach at a university spotted him playing cricket with his friends, when he asked Sharma if he would want to join the cricket team.

While he did like playing cricket, he was more inclined towards football. “I was attracted more towards football since it was physically challenging. It came naturally to me. That is why I used to play football for the school and with friends,” Sharma explained.

Turns out, his school team was not that great with football, and the management offered additional perks for someone who played cricket but not for other sports. His school cricket team, however, was good enough to compete at a state level, and this slightly tipped him in the favour of cricket over football.

Picking cricket over football, but learning from the latter

There was one additional factor that dictated this decision, which every student can relate to. “Back then, if I represented the team at state level competitions in cricket, I could get four percent extra marks,” Sharma said with a smirk. He was aiming to get good scores in PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics) subjects, and this opportunity was too tempting to be turned down, he admitted.

“Additionally, I could also miss a whole day of school, as opposed to just a few hours for football. I wanted to take up cricket with these conditions in mind,” a grinning Sharma lets us into his childhood.

Thus, he officially picked up his first bat at the age of 17, playing for the state after clearing the requisites to be in the team. He also picked up wicket keeping while playing for the state, with no real coaching before this. However, this didn’t mean he would let go of what football taught him.

Playing as a right striker meant he would always be finding ways to hit the ball in the goal. “The side movement I learnt in football helped me immensely in wicket keeping,” Sharma said. His football days gave him immense strength and the necessary agility to get the incoming deliveries quickly behind the wickets.

Ahead of his Tata Indian Premier League 2022 debut, the talented batter had said, “I will contribute in whichever way I can. I am a team man. If the team wins because of me, I will definitely be the happiest in the squad. My only aim this year is to try and help the Punjab Kings win its first trophy,” an assured Sharma said. His actions on his debut have made his intent clear. Here’s hoping his words come true, too.