'Didn't expect to be picked' - Jitesh Sharma recalls moment of maiden India call-up

The Vidarbha wicketkeeper-batter was picked as replacement to the injured Sanju Samson after bright performances in IPL 2022 for Punjab Kings. 
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Vidarbha's experienced wicketkeeper-batter Jitesh Sharma recalled the moment he learnt of his maiden India call-up for the set of three T20Is at the start of the New Year's week against Sri Lanka. Jitesh, called in as a replacement for an injured Sanju Samson, said he "didn't expect to be picked" since the team had already been confirmed by the selectors.

The Punjab Kings (PBKS) late-order batting maverick has been retained for the three-match series versus New Zealand, starting Friday (January 27). But he still can't believe how fortunes changed in his favour as the untimely injury to Samson forced the selectors to spread the wicketkeeping canvas and rope in Jitesh, who was one of PBKS' bright young picks at IPL 2022. 

Batting down the order, the right-hander smashed 234 runs over 10 innings in his role of a late-order striker at an eye-catching SR of 163.63, enjoying the role-clarity and consistency of selection provided by the PBKS think-tank. He has been identified for the Indian team to perform similar duties if and when the opportunity arises. 

Jitesh Sharma on India T20I selection 

"I didn't expect to be picked because the team had already been selected," Jitesh told ESPNcricinfo in an interview. "I knew I had to do well in the IPL if I had to come into the reckoning. I wasn't in the Ranji team, so I was preparing on my own, and then when Sanju [Samson] got injured, I got the call."

The 29-year-old said the presence of bowling coach Paras Mhambrey in the dressing room helped him warm up to the atmosphere, where under skipper Hardik Pandya, the mood was jovial and happy in the camp - always a good setting for a newcomer. 

"I didn't know whether to call my dad, younger brother or friends," he said. "I went home and then sat down calmly and told my dad and brother. They were all very excited. The day I joined the Indian team, I got a very warm welcome. Rahul [Dravid] sir was there, Paras [Mhambrey] sir was around - I'd played four years under him at Vidarbha."

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Playing the IPL in front of packed crowds under sustained pressure also helped Jitesh keep his nerves in check for an India call-up. "I had played in the IPL, so you're used to that mental pressure. The stress was a lot less. I had an idea of how all of this works and I felt comfortable," he said, stressing that the mood in the Indian camp was light, which was of huge advantage for him as a first-timer inside it. 

"It was an emotional moment entering that dressing room. When you go into the India dressing room, it's a responsibility you carry. I look at it as a challenge."

"Maybe I've got this far because god thinks I'm strong enough to carry this responsibility. The dressing room is always smiling and happy, whether we win or lose," Jitesh added.