Shardul now thinks like a fast bowler, bowls consistently in the mid 130s sometimes even touching 140s when in full rythm.
Mumbai’s strike bowler Shardul Thakur entered the record books with six sixes in interschool cricket in 2006. He burst on the Ranji scene six years later as a pacer, but his weight and wayward bowling caught more attention than his uncanny pace and swing. With his average height, he did not have the body of a fast bowler, but that didn’t stop Shardul. He kept working hard despite the taxing commute from his Palghar residence to South Mumbai’s grounds every day.
Shardul shed more than 10 kilos to come strong the following season before becoming the premiere fast bowler for Mumbai at domestic circuit along with Dhawal Kulkarni. In the last two seasons, he has emerged as Mumbai’s strike bowler, performing well across all formats. He was also picked for India’s 15-member Test squad for the West Indies tour last year but didn’t feature in the playing XI.
Meanwhile, Shardul had Indian Premier League on his mind, which has served as a big stage for fringe players like him to showcase their talent. Though selected by Kings XI Punjab in 2014, he got a chance to play just one game in three seasons with them. Before the start of this season, he was traded with Rising Pune Supergiant (RPS) and he rose like a Supergiant again.
The hardworking 25-year-old, who played 12 games for his new franchise including the Qualifier 1 and Final, showed his calibre to the previous franchise by picking 3/19 against them in the last League match at Pune, knocking them out of the tournament. In the process, RPS finished the League in second place. The consistent performer for Mumbai took another three wickets at Wankhede Stadium against hosts Mumbai Indians to put RPS straight in the final. Shardul finished the tournament with 11 wickets. In the final, he bowled tightly, took two catches calmly and showed presence of mind to run to wicket-keeper’s end on his own bowling and run out Mumbai Indians’ batsman Karn Sharma despite the fact that Dan Christian had dropped the catch at slips on his bowling. This smartness he had shown against same opposition at Wankhede Stadium by deceiving Parthiv Patel with a slower one and getting fingertips to run Lendl Simmons out to break the dangerous opening stand.
“I was doing well in the domestic circuit also with One Day and T20 matches I played. Obviously, IPL was on my mind and I was playing and practicing accordingly; you know how big a platform it is. Preparation started way too early, not during the tournament game. Yes, I was looking forward to this opportunity to play and thank God it has come this year with Pune,” Shardul said before the final match. As if not making it to playing XI was less of a misery, he was released from the Kings XI squad midway through the 2016 season. A frustrated Thakur who had just helped Mumbai win the Ranji Trophy for the 41st time in the 2015-16 season chose to play for his club Payyade SC to get the essential practice.
“I was always practicing as if I would play the next game. I would relate those situations in practice and practice accordingly,” he added. Shardul was soon over the moon as he was selected in the Indian Test team for the first time for the West Indies tour though he didn’t get to play. He didn’t have a great domestic season and might have felt the old blues when he didn’t get to play Rising Pune’s first three matches of the season. Since then, however, he has played in 10 out of the side’s 11 matches. So did he do anything different this season to impress his franchise coaching staff and skipper Steve Smith? “Not many changes. Whatever I have learnt in three-four years of domestic cricket, the variations, situations that I’ve seen in the game, I used my personal experience. Also, senior players’ experiences and advice made it easy,” Shardul said.
Shardul was given a run along with Saurashtra left-arm pacer Jaydev Unadkat after Ashok Dinda and Deepak Chahar. The initial choices didn’t do well in the first three matches for Pune. There might have been pressure to perform after an opportunity long overdue as many like Ishwar Pandey were waiting for their chance.
“That’s the beauty of the game, especially in IPL. You know the squad is big; everyone is behind your back.
Not succumbing to pressure and taking it positively as you are getting a chance ahead of others; that’s how I see it. My responsibility is to do well and help my team win,” he said. Interactions with experienced players in the Pune franchise, including Steve Smith and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, has helped him to mature as a cricketer. “You know what big players they are. Their experience counts whenever they advise or whatever experience they share, one would like to take it and use into the personal style of play, and most of the times it works,” he said.
Shardul Thakur who used to commute daily from Palghar to his school Swami Vivekanand in Borivali carted six sixes in an over at Cross Maidan – a rare feat that put him in record books – during the Plate Division Harris Shield match over a decade ago, so does he get tempted to hit big sixes in IPL? “It is different when it comes to T20 cricket. You know, the No. 7 or 8 batsman doesn’t always get the opportunity to bat; even if he does, it would be bad pitch or just a couple of balls, so it is difficult to do well with the bat in IPL. Yet, if I get the opportunity to play five odd overs, probably I will do well with the bat as well,” he said.
When he came to the heavyweight Mumbai side that had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane and Wasim Jaffer besides pacers Zaheer Khan, Ajit Agarkar and Kulkarni, he was overweight and bowled big wides, leadin to raised eyebrows about his selection. But he knew where he belonged and worked hard on his bowling to come back strong. He had pace and hit the deck hard. He now thinks like a fast bowler, bowls consistently in the mid 130s sometimes even touching 140s when in full rythm. He has the ability to get the ball to move both ways, though his out swingers are more lethal.
He took eight wickets against the Saurashtra cricket team and led the Mumbai cricket team to win its 41st Ranji Trophy title during the 2015-16 season.
2012-13 Ranji season: 4 wickets from four games
2013-14: 27 wickets from six games
2014-15: 48 wickets from ten games
2015-16: 41 wickets
2016-17 27 wickets