The India fast bowler reveals why he believes India can win their first global silverware for over a decade.
Sharma reveals why this is the time for India, among the favourites in the latest T20 World Cup betting odds, to end their global silverware drought.
How much are you looking forward to the T20 World Cup?
I’m really excited. I think it’s going to be a fantastic tournament with so many teams and players in good form.
From an Indian perspective, it’s particularly exciting that the first match is against Pakistan. The two teams don’t play each other very often, only in the Asia Cup and other global events, so it’s going to be a huge occasion.
Can you explain how big an occasion India v Pakistan is?
To be honest, as players, we don’t think: ’Right, we’re playing Pakistan.’ The match is just like any other for us in terms of the way we approach it.
We understand the hype around the match but we are used to it now.
I think what the public doesn’t see is that there is plenty of respect between the players of both teams. The players gel together – they talk about cricket, and they talk about their families.
But I can also understand why there is so much excitement around India when we play Pakistan. There are parties, there’s a great atmosphere and it’s a big event.
And both teams really want to win, of course.
What do you think are going to be the keys to winning the World Cup?
For me, the bowlers are going to be crucial in this tournament.
The grounds in Australia are really big, there’s going to be plenty of bounce and I think there are going to be opportunities for bowlers. We know that runs come easily in T20 cricket these days, so it’s actually the bowlers who can make the difference.
That’s particularly the case for India because they are without Jasprit Bumrah. There is plenty of depth in India’s fast bowling and somebody is going to have to step up and win the World Cup for their team.
How does India go about replacing Bumrah – as well as Ravi Jadeja?
I think they can cope without Jadeja. Obviously, his fielding and batting is really good, but Axar Patel is a very capable replacement with the ball. He is a like-for-like with his left-arm action.
He’s always done well for the team as well as in the IPL.
Bumrah is obviously going to be difficult to replace, because of his experience. He has the skillset to perform again and again, particularly at death in pressurized situations. He also has that unique action.
But it’s true that India has produced a lot of good fast bowlers over the last few years. The competition is really high right now, and with so many options it actually becomes quite simple.
If you perform you will play and if you don’t then somebody else will get a chance.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Harshal Patel, Arshdeep Singh and Mohammed Shami is such a competitive group of fast bowlers.
Other than the Bumrah injury, do you think India is in good shape?
Yeah, they’ve prepared really well. They’ve played a lot of T20 cricket in the build-up and I think they’ve rotated the team well enough so that every player is mentally fresh. That’s so important.
The good thing is that there’s no bubble now, so the players are free to live their lives.
Virat Kohli is always a huge talking point around major tournaments. How do you see him getting on?
I have played so much cricket with him since childhood and I know that he will perform exactly how the team needs him to perform. If they require quick innings from him, he will deliver. If they need somebody to bat through the innings, he can do that, too.
He’ll never think about individual accolades, he’s a team man. It just depends on the kind of role that he is given.
He’s been in good form recently, so I am confident that he’s going to score runs during the World Cup.
How difficult has it been for world stars like Kohli to perform to their best in the last couple of years, considering their hectic schedule and bubble life?
Yes, bubble life was very difficult.
Initially, it was alright, you had a common room and everybody sat together and ate together, but after a while, it became less fun.
You couldn’t take your mind off the game or switch off at all. It was extremely difficult to be mentally fresh, so if you were on a poor run, it was all you had to think about.
Have India got the right blend of experience and youth?
Yes, with Virat, Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Dinesh Karthik, I think they have a nice experienced core.
You need plenty of exuberance and energy in T20, but you have to have that experience for when you find yourselves in a tough situation.
India has lots of players very used to winning games of T20 cricket.
What do you make of Rishabh Pant? Just how talented is he?
If Rishabh gets a chance to turn a game on its head, he will do it. He can win you games single-handedly. He has that kind of impact.
We have seen in international cricket that when his team is five wickets down, he will still play his shots and carry on in the same fashion as always. He is never too afraid to play the way he plays.
Every bowler is under pressure against him because he doesn’t think about what the situation is, he just backs his talent.
He could have a very big tournament because he won’t let the pressure get to him.
Another young talent in great form is Suryakumar Yadav. What do you make of him?
He’s very difficult to bowl to.
I think in the last few months he has changed his game a bit. He’s gone from being a good player to someone who is a 360-degree player.
As a bowler, he doesn’t give you any kind of option. He plays with the field brilliantly and makes you feel like it’s impossible to stop him from scoring.
How do the selectors fit all of these talented batters into one team?
I’m glad I’m not a selector!
What I would say is that it’s much easier having all this talent to pick from than not having enough. The equation is quite simple for the players. If you don’t perform, there is a quality player waiting to replace you.
Everybody has to be on their toes and always give their best.
India hasn’t won the T20 World Cup since 2007. Do you think they ought to have a better record in this event?
To be honest, I think we’ve been unlucky most of the time. If you look at the last World Cup, the toss made such a big difference to results and India lost all of the first three tosses.
Yes, the IPL is the biggest league in the world and India has loads of squad depth, but that doesn’t change anything if you lose the toss and have to bowl with a wet ball in dewy conditions.
It was very difficult for teams bowling second to grip the ball in that tournament, so hopefully India get a bit more luck this time.
How will India get on in Australian conditions?
As I said, the grounds are so big in Australia that it can be easier to pick up wickets. You can at least have some sort of margin for error as a bowler.
In India, you have no margin because the boundaries are 60 or 70 meters. You have to be so spot on in your execution.
With my bowler’s hat on, this gives us a better chance.
Other than India, which teams can challenge for the World Cup?
Australia and England. I think they’re the teams that can put you under pressure regardless of what situation they’re in. They just keep going hard.
The opening batters sum that up best. David Warner and Jos Buttler are IPL legends. People love them because they’ve performed really well for their franchises over a long period of time.
They can put bowlers under pressure from any situation and are a big part of why I think their teams can challenge India for the title.