Whenever Sanchit Sharma allowed himself to daydream about playing T20 franchise cricket in front of a global TV audience for the first time, it might have panned out exactly as happened on Sunday.
The 21-year-old seamer from Ajman took three for nine after opening the bowling for Gulf Giants against Abu Dhabi Knight Riders in the International League T20.
In his third over at the Zayed Cricket Stadium, he was on a hat-trick. It set his new side on their way to a crushing six-wicket win, after which he collected a trophy and a cheque for $1,500 as the player of the match.
So the perfect debut? Almost, but not quite, he said.
“If I’d had a fourth over, it could have been much better,” Sharma joked after the game. He had been one over shy of his full allocation, after all.
“I am really happy,” he added. “It was the dream start. Three wickets really set the game up for us.”
He had been told he would be in the starting line up a day earlier by Andy Flower, the former England coach who is in charge of the Giants.
“I was walking through the hotel and happened to see him,” Sharma said.
“He said, ‘Sanchit, have a seat. You will be playing tomorrow’. I was happy, thinking something good was about to happen, but was really nervous.
“I visualised what was going to happen, individually and in terms of the team’s performance, and it was almost exactly what I thought of.”
Having opened the bowling in the side’s two practice matches, he knew he was going to be into the action early on game day. He made perfect use of the new ball, first dismissing Colin Ingram, and then Brandon King and Colin Esterhuizen in consecutive deliveries.
“It would have been great if I had pitched it right on the stumps,” he said of the hat-trick ball, which drifted harmlessly past Akeal Hossain’s off stump.
“I wanted to swing it, an in-swinging yorker, but it wasn’t straight.”
Among the vocal Giants support in the grandstand, the loudest was Sharma’s family. That included sister Khushi Sharma, who is an established figure in the UAE women’s national team.
“They came all the way from Sharjah to watch the game,” Sharma said.
“I could hear people shouting when I was bowling and I could hear my dad every single ball, shouting, ‘Sanchit, do well!’ I was really excited and really happy at the same time.”
It was the second time in successive matches a UAE player had been player of the match in the ILT20.
The previous night, on the same field in the capital, Muhammad Waseem had been in stunning form with the bat as MI Emirates thrashed Sharjah Warriors.
Sharma and Waseem had made their debuts for the national team in the same series in October 2021. Where Waseem has become a star of the short format in the time since, Sharma has endured an exasperating spell on the sidelines.
He has not added to that solitary appearance against Ireland back then, having been forced away from the sport after suffering serious injuries in a car crash during Diwali.
Now he is back, and he wants to force his way back into contention for national duty, via his performances for Gulf Giants.
“It has been frustrating,” Sharma said. “I made my debut in 2021, then unfortunately had an accident. After that I was sidelined. I have always been in and out, with the reserves for the T20 World Cup.
“I have been waiting for that breakthrough point. By the end of this tournament, I want to be back in the squad, and permanently so.”