Why Sandeep Sharma went unsold in the IPL auction

At the age of 30, one of the best local IPL seamers was out of the league.

Sandeep Sharma bowled a knuckleball recently that also happened to be a leg cutter. The delivery was so good the umpire might have missed that it didn’t bowl Rohit.

Only a few bowlers in the world can land a knuckleball on demand every time. The grip is really hard, many bowlers never work it out. Others can bowl it but not land it. And some can bowl it but can’t hide it.

So to take this ball and then add a degree of difficulty of bowling a leg cutter with it is just insane. And then he landed it so perfectly that it hit the top of off stump. Or at least created an illusion as it did.

This is not a normal cricket act.

And it was from a bowler who was not taken in the last auction. I mean, no one wanted this bowler? What the hell is going on with that?

Let us look at a few Sandeep Sharma facts for a moment. He has the 14th most wickets ever in the IPL, and also the 10th most of any Indian. Even as a part-timer and bowling coach, it would probably be worth having him in your squad.

Wickets on their own are only so important, what about wickets at the top, where Sandeep cooks?

Well, he cooks and eats here. He’s at number two on the all-time list. One of our players ever with more than 50 wickets. A no-doubt great powerplay bowler.

Even when you factor in his economy, he is definitely one of the best powerplay bowlers in history. There is no way to look at these raw numbers and think otherwise.

But he does bowl some of the best powerplay overs, upfront with the ball swinging. So I thought it was only fair to look at him when it comes to true economy and true wickets per 24 balls. And when you do that, he’s still really good. In fact, he might be even better. He takes wickets at an above-average rate and also goes at more than half an over better than par. He is the real deal - production numbers, averages, economy, and advanced metrics - one of the best to ever take the new ball.

You are talking about the only bowler who took 12 wickets per game in every season from 2014 to 2020. He was a machine in those years.

So he had reliability, and he also has some of the best batters in the world in trouble. Shubman Gill scores at less than four runs an over against him. Rohit Sharma averages 7.6 against him. Chris Gayle was barely a run-a-ball and averaging 16. SKY averages ten. And that is also burying the lead, which is that he has Virat Kohli seven times, at an average of 11.

Yeah, you know this is one of the best of bowlers in the IPL, he’s got a game that can slow down, or dismiss the best around. I think others slow down someone like Virat, but to dominate him at what he does best, scoring lots of runs, is something else.

So where does he hit in the best seamers from India? This is important. There haven’t been that many hugely successful quicks. Even the high-quality Test guys they have had haven’t all gone over well.

And you clearly have two bowlers just like no one else. Bumrah is 1.3 runs an over better than a normal bowler, which is obscene. And you can see Bhuvi is just behind there at 0.9 runs an over. You can see why both of them are not taking as many wickets because teams have decided to attack them less.

That hasn’t happened with Sandeep. You can see career-long, he’s just marginally above average when it comes to the true economy, which is a good amount. That has him as the fourth-best. Just behind Zaheer Khan. In terms of true wickets per 24 balls, he is the third-best striker with only Ashish Nehra and Harshal Patel beating him.

Based on all this, you could easily make a claim for him to be the third-best Indian seamer in the IPL. Or at worst, top five.

Like, he is at worst the discount Bhuvi Kumar. Obviously, he is not at that level, and there are some differences. He bowls less than an over at the death on average, and Bhvui is up on that. There is only one.

But if you look at their career earnings, even in Sandeep’s glory years, he was massively down on what Bhuvi was making. And I don’t think that’s wrong, even though he was probably underpaid in that period. But he was never Bhuvi.

But this also got me thinking, wouldn’t he be a good buy for this season? His value is down, and you still have his experience and skill. In fact, he is still a really good fielder as well.

This is not a normal grab, so what you have is a way above-average talent as a bowler, who can certainly catch the ball. And coming into this season I was going to do a feature on what a brilliant career he has had. Then he wasn’t picked up in the auction at all.

And so now I am left with the question we started with, why?

Let’s start with form. Up until 2021, he had never had a bad year of T20 bowling. Not all had been great, but he took a reasonable amount of wickets most years and was also very economical in most of them. Then 2021 happens. And he’s roadkill. Cannot take a wicket, and has the second-worst economy since he was a young pup coming into the game.

Then he struggles to get wickets in 2022, weirdly his economy is fine. This suggests to me it might just be a bit of a luck thing. But he bowled over 20 overs, so the sample is not too bad on that. Either way, his economy is actually really good there.

It should be enough for a mid-level contract in 2023, and instead, he is unsold.

When I see this, my first thought was age. But he’s only 29 - although he is turning 30 in a few days. I would have guessed at least 32, maybe 33. 30 is not young for a seamer, but one who relies on skill it’s also certainly not when you start to dump them. Like if he was 32, then the 2021 season should have been when he was hitting 30s. Which is a time bowlers might show signs they are done.

But Sandeep Sharma turned 28 during the 2021 season. That is not a normal time for your age to play a part. It didn’t make sense.

But something else happened at this time, the Sunrisers Hyderabad were collapsing as a franchise. Remember this was the year that they sacked David Warner because he kept running himself out and batted slowly. They were in shambles.

And the madness of their team also affected the man who had been a rock for them for seven seasons. For instance, they decided in one game not to use him up front in the powerplay. Trevor Bayliss talked about how Khaleel Ahmed was better for that match-up.

At first, I thought having three new ball bowlers might have been part of the problem. Perhaps he was getting less of the new ball, and there is an element of that. However, the really noticeable thing he wasn’t doing was bowling at the end. That would certainly account for why he didn’t take as many wickets in 2022. But not really why his econ was high.

So he clearly had two bad years. And I couldn’t find many things about injuries. But he was with the Sunrisers during their disaster season, and in 2022 he was back at Punjab, which was a bit of an experimental year for them. But really, his numbers there were fine.

There is an element here of the one-dimensional nature of before. He might have great numbers, but a lot of that was working in great bowling attacks where his skills were being maximised. That was harder to do as the Sunrisers were combusting and when he got to Punjab for his second stint.

But the main problem with him as a bowler is his incredible unsexiness. He’s pretty comfortably medium fast and short. If there is a seamer that India is known to create a lot it is the undersized, not too quick skilful bowler. Chances are they just thought that they would be finding another bowler like him.

And in principle I agree, but looking at the history of IPL, it would be hard to suggest there have been many bowlers like him. And even half in form, he should be hired.

This year he’s had a mixed bag. Holding MS Dhoni at the death in one game, and then losing a game with a no-ball. But the last thing worth talking about is why he was playing this year. Because he wasn’t picked up at auction, he was chosen later when Rajasthan Royals had an injury.

The player he was replacing was Prasidh Krishna. The man who just got a very big payday, despite not having a long career behind him.

In fact, Prasidh has already made more money than Sandeep in his career. This is despite their records being not even in any way comparable. Sandeep has been a consistent top performer, Prasidh was hidden from the powerplay until last year.

And the funny thing is, I kind of assumed, because of how little he has played, that he’s young. But actually, Prasidh Krishna is 27. He’s tall and fast, he’s not quite a unicorn but certainly sex on wheels compared to Sandeep’s beige second-hand t-shirt.

I think that is the main difference. When you break it down, Sandeep might have an incredible record, but there is always someone sexier around. He’s been very good, but it’s felt plodding compared to Prasidh or Umran Malik.

Although most of them can’t bowl this ball in their wildest dream.