Australia ODIs chance to bring A game: Shardul Thakur
It’s not easy being a fast bowler trying to break into the Indian team these days—the competition is intense. With many skilful and experienced pacers in the set-up, where does Shardul Thakur fit in?
The Mumbai bowler’s ability to handle his nerves shines through in the high-pressure white-ball format. It proved vital in India’s final international of 2019, against West Indies, where he played a cameo to power the team home in Cuttack.
It is this quality that endears him to his captains, impressing MS Dhoni first and now Virat Kohli. They have more effective bowlers at their disposal but Thakur’s captains are aware that when the fight reaches the trenches, Thakur will be up for it.
With Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Deepak Chahar sidelined with injuries, Thakur will team up with the returning Jasprit Bumrah and Navdeep Saini for the series against Sri Lanka and Australia this month. “I feel the ball is coming out of my hand really well. Whatever matches I play in, this is my mantra: ‘bowl hard, bowl fast’. You have to get ahead of the opponents, what they are thinking or not thinking and in what frame of mind the batsman has come out to bat,” said Thakur before leaving to join the India team.
A T20 game can change in a couple of overs, so India can ill- afford to take Sri Lanka lightly. But the real test for India’s bowlers will be against Australia. Thakur is looking up to the challenge. “It is an ideal opportunity for all of us to show our A game because the stronger the opponent, the more you will get tested. I look at it as an opportunity. If they are getting tougher, how do we put our A game on the park? How do you bail out your team from a tough situation?”
Thakur made his first-class debut in 2012 and continued to toil without reward till Dhoni and Stephen Fleming took him under their wings at Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS). His success in the IPL brought him focus, and though it has been a stop-start career since due to injuries, he has played in all three formats (one Test, seven ODIs and seven T20s).
“In 2017 IPL, when I was transferred from Kings XI to RPS, that was an important break for me. Before that I hadn’t played much with the white ball. When in the 2018 auction I went to CSK, I was very happy because we had the same support staff, Dhoni bhai was also around. I knew how our coach Stephen Fleming works, how Mahi bhai works. When you establish a rapport, it gets easier for the player.
“Whenever I play, both give me a free hand. They come and ask what my plan is for the opponent.‘What are you thinking? How are you going to tackle the batsmen?’ They just helped me with better answers. If you are thinking about yorkers, they will talk it out: whether to bowl stump yorkers or wide yorkers. They give you that clarity.”
At CSK, Thakur has seen another story similar to his unfold—that of Deepak Chahar. Although Thakur feels they have different skills as bowlers, Chahar, like him, uses the away swinger as one of his main weapons. Apart from being bowling partners, they also seem to be competing for the same spot as the battle for places in the World Twenty20 Cup heats up.
Thakur disagrees. “I don’t think we are fighting for the same spot. Don’t think we are similar bowlers. We have different sets of skills too. I don’t believe I am fighting for the same spot with anyone for that matter. If you do well, you are going to play. If he does well, he is going to play. At the end of the day, we are playing for the country.”
As for their sharp away swingers, which Dhoni at CSK has converted into a very effective style of attack, Thakur says: “Playing swing is never easy, and if you are skilful enough it’s going to help you. I feel it’s a blessing that I can swing the ball, and I can swing it at good pace. So when we play, we try to make full use of it.”
Imagine being forced off the field 10 deliveries into your Test debut due to an injury. That horror game for Thakur was against West Indies in October, 2018, at Hyderabad. It remains his only Test. He has sustained injuries during other games as well, but keeps coming back strongly.
As a player from Palghar, 87 km from Mumbai, he would take the 5 am local to reach Churchgate in time for practice. In the evening, he would make a two-and-a-half hour return journey. Sometimes, he would stay at his uncle’s or coach’s place in the city. Thakur doesn’t attribute his competitive spirit to the tough life. “I was born aggressive I feel. It was always within me. Being a fast bowler you have to be aggressive, you can’t be modest all the time. At the same time, you should be able to control it. I have travelled so much, have met so many people, had different experiences, it helped me control my aggression.”
For Thakur, 2019 started on a dismal note as he underwent a foot surgery. But it ended strongly to put him in the right frame of mind for 2020. In the series decider, walking into bat after the dismissal of Kohli in the chase of West Indies’ total of 315, Thakur struck the first ball through the covers for four and finished the game with a six-ball 17. Talking about his cameo, Thakur said: “Personally, for me it was a confidence booster. The satisfaction you get from performing under pressure, you don’t get it every day.”