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Shardul Thakur's topsy-turvy journey

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Shardul_Thakur_India_CricketThe continuous fall and rise

The Harris Shield cricket tournament, the gateway to the junior Mumbai teams, is home to several popular records – the extraordinary 664-run partnership between Sachin Tendulkar and Vinod Kambli or Prithvi Shaw’s blazing knock of 546, among others.

Not many are aware that team India pacer Shardul Thakur, too, has his name etched in the school-level tournament’s record books. In 2006, as a 14-year-old, Thakur smashed six sixes in an over for Swami Vivekananda School against S Radhakrishnan School. His eventual 73-ball 160 included 10 sixes and 20 fours. This feat is not spoken about often as Thakur eventually established himself as a fast-bowler.

The struggle with an overweight body

Thakur was drafted into the first-class scene in 2012, when he made a rather forgettable debut for Mumbai against Rajasthan. In his first Ranji Trophy season, the then-overweight Thakur could not dismiss more than six batsmen in five games. He was severely criticised for being overweight – 83 kgs - which cost him a place in the Mumbai U19 squad too.

A determined Thakur fought the odds, worked on his bowling, shed 13 kilos and forced his way back to the Ranji Team. In the following season, 2013-14, his 27 wickets from six matches was the second highest in the tournament. The next season, 2014-15, he bettered his performance and ended the tournament as the joint highest wicket-taker alongside Vinay Kumar. Thakur picked up 48 wickets, including five 5-wicket hauls.

In the 2015-2016 season, the 5-foot 9-inch tall pacer picked up 41 wickets, which was instrumental in Mumbai winning their 41st Ranji Trophy. Memorably, Thakur picked up 8 wickets against Saurashtra in the final.

Thakur’s willpower brought him a long way to become the best bowler of the Mumbai team.

Talented yet unused – Thakur’s struggles in the IPL

For most of his initial years in the Indian Premier League, Thakur’s role in the team was restricted to carrying drinks. From 2014 to 2016 – the period in which he was the best performer for Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy – Thakur played just one game in three seasons for the Kings XI Punjab. The frustration of being left out of the playing XI for three years was vented through a tweet that was later deleted:

“Will play a semifinal t20 game tomorrow for my club payyadesc..playing a game after 2 months..ipl has done wonders .. Certainly”

Thakur’s frustration was valid, given that he had performed exceptionally well for Mumbai during his three years with the Punjab franchise. He was eventually asked to leave the franchise midway in the 2016 season, because of Punjab’s disgraceful campaign.

As fate would have it, the fast bowler’s perseverance was rewarded and he was called up to the national team in 2016 for the Test series against West Indies. But Thakur returned to India without making a debut and was kept on the bench, similar to his IPL misery.

When fortune smiled upon him – the journey from IPL to Indian cricket team

In what was the biggest turning point of his career, Rising Pune Supergiant(s) acquired Thakur’s services for the 2017 IPL season. Aware that the new opportunity could either make or break his career, the bustling seamer gave his all, picking up 11 wickets in 11 games. He played a crucial role behind Steve Smith & Co making it to the final of IPL 10.

Following his IPL heroics, Thakur was called up to the ODI squad against Sri Lanka. On debut, he returned with figures of 1/26 in 7 overs. He played two games in the series before being struck by an untimely injury and was replaced by Siddharth Kaul. Once again, the promising bowler found himself on the fringes when Sri Lanka toured India in December 2017.

After regaining fitness, the selectors, aware of the Palghar-born bowler’s talent, picked him for the South Africa tour. But not until India wrapped up the ODI series 4-1 did Thakur find the platform to perform. Captain Virat Kohli played him in the dead rubber at Centurion and despite being a bit expensive, Thakur made a mark in international cricket. He took four wickets for 52 runs, but his wicket-taking ability shone on the bouncy South African deck.

Bowling roughly between 135 and 140 kmph, Thakur isn’t the fastest of the lot, but his natural outswinger, his ability to make the ball swing and an accurate bouncer help his case. Furthermore, highlights of his IPL outings show that he can consistently bowl knuckle-balls, something that better options Mohammed Shami or Bhuvneshwar Kumar cannot.

In the on-going T20I tri-series in Sri Lanka, the relatively inexperienced Thakur was on the expensive side in the first game, leaking 42 runs without getting a wicket. Following that game, most assumed that Mohammed Siraj would be roped in to replace Thakur in the second game. Surprisingly, the Mumbaikar was given a longer rope. Thakur’s 1-25 in the second T20I against Bangladesh was a much improved performance.

In the third T20I against Sri Lanka, he once again brushed off the doubts surrounding his selection with impressive figures of 4-27.

What next for the Palghar Express?

With uncertainty looming large over Mohammed Shami’s cricketing future and Bhuvneshwar Kumar still not a completely polished bowler in the 50-over format (he has only 90 wickets from 86 ODIs), this is the right time to test Thakur’s potential by making him a regular in the ODI set-up. With a bit more grooming, his swing can be India’s trump card in the swing-friendly England – where the 2019 World Cup will be held.

The secret of Thakur’s success is quite simple – he may fall, but he never gives up.

 

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