If Team India did not miss the ever-reliable Jasprit Bumrah during the white-ball leg of the series against England, it was largely because Shardul Thakur rose to the occasion—almost every time the team was under pressure.
Bumrah is undoubtedly a once-in-a-generation kind of bowler, but Thakur’s moment of glory often came in situations that are almost exclusively the domain expertise of the Gujarat pacer.
“I mean I’m surprised that he was not the Man of the Match. Four wickets and scoring 30 runs,” said skipper Virat Kohli after the third and decisive ODI played in Pune on March 28, 2021.
Of course, providing crucial breakthroughs at the most desperate turns has made Bumrah an invaluable asset to this Indian team. Yet Thakur did his best so that Bumrah’s absence could be compensated to a larger extent. Apart from picking up four wickets (giving away just 67 runs) during England’s brave run-chase on Sunday, Thakur also scored a 21-ball 30. The 29-year-old may not appear as dynamic as Hardik Pandya but across formats, his reputation as an all-rounder is growing.
Thakur was the highest wicket-taker in both the T20I and ODI series against England as Kohli kept saying that along with Bhuvneshwar Kumar, he was the difference between the sides. Thakur had eight dismissals in the T20I series and got seven in the ODIs that followed. It could be a coincidence that India won every ODI match where Thakur was among the wickets this series (five out of eight) and lost every single one (three out of eight ODI matches) where he failed to take a wicket!
However, it was not just the number of wickets which made Thakur such an impactful bowler but the timing of those wickets. In the last match of the series, the third ODI in Pune, England were rocked by his consistent efforts. Thakur first removed England captain Jos Buttler and then, in quick succession, dismissed Liam Livingstone (36 off 31) and Dawid Malan (50 off 50).
Throughout the series, Thakur picked prized wickets. In the first match of the ODI series, England were 135/0 in the 14th over, chasing 318. He got rid of Jonny Bairstow (94 off 66 balls) who was threatening to take the game away from India. And, he came back once more by getting the big wickets of English captain Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler in the space of three balls to reduce England to 176/5.
In fact, it seemed that he had made this habit of delivering a double-wicket over as he did it twice in the T20Is as well.
“Shardul has got some terrific variations in his armoury and the way he bowled against England speaks volumes about his temperament,” says former India pacer Venkatesh Prasad to this writer.
In the 2nd T20I, Shardul dismissed two well set England batsmen: Eoin Morgan (28 off 20) and Ben Stokes (24 off 21). They were chasing 165 and were 142/4 at the time. In the 4th T20I with the series on the line, England needed just 37 runs more with Stokes and Morgan at the crease, it looked all lost for Indian. However, Shardul had other ideas and got rid of both Stokes and Morgan in the successive balls.
It has been a fascinating turnaround for someone who was not considered an ideal bowler for white ball format to start with. Thakur of course still goes for some runs while picking wickets but he has now come to terms with the fact that as long as he enjoys the challenges , he will keep getting better. “I’m enjoying it a lot,” said Thakur to the host broadcaster Star Sports during T20 series. “Even when I’m playing in the IPL or domestic cricket, I bowl a lot of overs in the death or fourth, fifth or sixth over in the powerplay. So, I bowl a lot of overs where batsmen come hard at bowlers. Kind of getting used to it now.”
Another coincidence which can be found in Thakur’s ascendency in white ball cricket is his association with former India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Thakur was first picked by KXIP in 2015 but got only a solitary match to play in two seasons. When he joined Rising Pune Supergiant in 2017, he looked a different bowler. In fact, in the Qualifier 1 of the tenth edition of the league at the Wankhede Stadium against the Mumbai Indians, his three wickets were instrumental in his team reaching the final of the tournament. Bought for INR 2.6 crore.
The last couple of months have been a sort of a fairytale journey for Thakur. Hailing from Palghar, a town 87 km north of Mumbai, Thakur’s story so far has been all about perseverance and triumph of never say die attitude. If he can sustain his excellent form in the IPL 2021 for CSK, who knows that a berth in the forthcoming T20 World Cup will be sealed as well!