Shardul Thakur has to go down as one of the most confusing personas in the current Indian setup – having come under fire for donning the iconic jersey. Since then his career has been always about unfulfilled promises and trolls but right now, there is an opportunity for him to turn it around.
It was the Winter of 2014, Karnataka were strongly picking up pace in the Ranji Trophy, decimating opposition as they come, led by their inspired skipper Vinay Kumar. Up against them was in the semi-final was a dominant Mumbai side, who were strengthened by the presence of Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav with the bat. But with the ball, they were led by an inexperienced Shardul Thakur, who just put his baby steps into the domestic scene.
Cut to the end of the season, Thakur emerged as one of the talents from the red-ball circuit, not only thanks to his ability to get the ball swinging away from the right-handers but the knack of picking up wickets at any moment. In 18 innings, he had already picked up 48 wickets at an average of 20.81 and best figures of 9/90. Mumbai eventually ran out of fuel, but Thakur’s emergence was arguably their glowing light.
At 23, like the retired policeman-like-figure from yesteryear Indian film Sholay, ‘Thakur’ was once again amongst the lips of the Mumbaikars but this one was for a different reason, one of their own was breathing fire with the ball in his hand. It kick-started his career and cut to 2020, the seamer is once again on the flight to Australia but this time, in the limited-overs format.
Between 2018 and 2020, the two-year-period where India found their stalwarts at the top of the order shine, there was Jasprit Bumrah, Yuzvendra Chahal and Mohammed Shami all becoming a force to reckon with but what about Thakur? Just 12 wickets in the ODI format where he couldn’t quite make his own, in comparison to the T20Is, where he picked up 21 wickets. His biggest failure yet in Indian colours, arrived just before the pandemic hit, in New Zealand, where everything he bowled was dealt in boundaries – fours and sixes.
Now he has the unique chance, a shot at redemption – a chance of changing people’s perception around and make the noises required for a longer shot of being a constant in India’s plans. He isn’t a prototype of any bowlers present in the current setup and if anything, he’s just marginally better in terms of what he has to offer. Especially in Australia, where the boundaries are usually longer and the bowlers have to resort to strategical methods of dismissing batsmen, Thakur has a bright chance, with the management at some point going to rest the likes of Shami and Bumrah.
Another aspect that falls right into his favour by luck is Hardik Pandya’s absence with the ball. The Mumbai Indians all-rounder has not bowled a single delivery in the 2020 edition of the IPL and the Indian team rightly isn’t going to risk him either, with his injury records from the past. That leaves Kohli one bowler and a potential batsman short – prompting a place for the Mumbaikar in the setup.
With just Navdeep Saini in the setup, another bowler who has extreme pace but has struggled with his control over the white-ball, India are in dire spots and Kohli knows it best. His decision making with the ball too isn’t entirely too praise-worthy, which is exactly where the Mumbaikar has triumphed in the last two seasons for the Chennai Super Kings.
Having not being named in the playing XI for the first few games, Thakur returned with a different skill set, one that he developed to make him a strong wicket-taker, which is his ability to land cross-seam deliveries on the spot – nine times out of ten – in addition to the wide-yorkers which he had already established. Pace is crucial in Australia but isn’t the most determining factor, like how Clint McKay once proved it from time to time, that there is more in Australia than just the pace.
Not just that, another reason that the right-arm seamer has made a name for himself is with the bat – having churned out incredible patience and utmost skill set required to bat well in the shorter formats. Be it his innings against Sunrisers Hyderabad in 2018 or his down but not-out kind of innings against West Indies, Thakur has shown that his willow can thump the ball to the boundaries, something extremely crucial for a player in Australia, where the boundaries are magnanimous. He gives India plenty of options, especially giving Kohli the much-needed liberty to use Shami more often with the new-ball.
With Bumrah and Shami, India had two of the best bowlers – not just with the new ball but also with the reverse-swinging one in the death overs. While Thakur has showcased his abilities towards the death overs, his variations combined with his street smart attitude allows the Indian skipper to shuffle his bowler to his own liking, which only helps the team create the utmost pressure on the opposition throughout the innings.
His average has taken a hit and, thanks to bowling in the shorter grounds in New Zealand, his wicket column has taken a hit as well – all because of his incompetence to leave a mark. Post-pandemic, it is the time for Thakur to shine, especially in conditions where everything seemingly works in his favour. At 29, Thakur has been an in and out player in the Indian squad but if he starts clicking just before the T20 World Cup, Kohli and the management would repay their trust and bank him for the upcoming series of World Cups in the sub-continent.
While Gabbar has proven his effectiveness at the top of the order, it is time for Thakur to showcase his talent, as the clock seems to be ticking fast! Palghar to Sydney, the right-arm seamer has the opportunity to prove himself.