Sandeep Sharma played a crucial role in Rajasthan Royals staging a late fightback and winning their Indian Premier League 2024 opener against the Lucknow Super Giants by 20 runs.

Sandeep finished with figures of 1/22 off three overs to derail the Super Giants’ chase. Coming into the attack at the end of 14 overs, LSG needed 65 off 36 balls, with two set batters, KL Rahul and Nicholas Pooran, looking to run away with the match.

The 30-year-old Sandeep bowled a tidy first over for just five runs to put the pressure back on the Super Giants. 

Sandeep used his slow ball and bouncer variations cleverly to choke the run flow and got the crucial wicket of KL Rahul, who was looking dangerous, in his second over which fetched only seven runs.

Sandeep gave away 11 runs in his final over to provide Avesh Khan with 27 runs to defend in the final over.

On the day, Sandeep took help of the strong breeze and tried to force batters to hit into the wind. He also used bouncers to his advantage, particularly when two are allowed in an over this season, and kept the LSG batters guessing when he would use them.

Earlier, the Royals scored 193/4 on the back of Sanju Samson’s unbeaten 82 off just 52 balls, who earned the Player of the Match award. The Rajasthan Royals captain, however, felt Sandeep was more deserving of the honour.

“I think I should give the trophy to Sandeep Sharma,” said Sanju Samson in the post-match ceremony. “I wouldn't have been standing here [but for him]... I thought of calling him, but then thought it would be a bit too much!”

Sanju Samson had no hesitation in using Sandeep Sharma as a death bowler, showcasing the captain’s faith in his bowler.

“Actually, he (Sanju) did not tell me anything, he just said back yourself, that is what he tells me all the time,” said Sandeep. “He had faith in me and I love it. And that is the conversation we have most of the time, back yourself and just try to execute your plans and be in the moment.”

Sandeep was also the go-to death bowler for Rajasthan Royals at crucial junctures last season. He defended 21 runs against Chennai Super Kings in the IPL 2023 with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja at the crease helping the Royals clinch a close tie by three runs.

“In a team where you have world-class new-ball bowlers like Trent Boult, I knew that I would get fewer opportunities with the new ball,” Sandeep explained his approach to bowling at the death. “So in the nets, I practiced my variations like slower balls, yorkers and bouncers. Then I felt that it was all about mindset.

“If you have a clear message from the management on when you will bowl, then it is easy to prepare and execute plans,” Sandeep pointed out.