Over the course of the 2013-14 season, it has not been too difficult to notice that something has changed about Shardul Thakur. The 22-year-old has morphed from the rotund and inconsistent quick who debuted for Mumbai at the end of 2012 into someone lean and with more focus. This season, Thakur has picked up 25 wickets from seven matches at an average a shade above 25. He has been more consistent with his length and is slowly moving towards using two of his major assets, pace and the ability to generate bounce, judiciously.
Till last year, Thakur was prone to trying too many things in midst of a spell. His bouncers did not trouble the batsmen, often whizzing a couple of feet above their heads. He was rather staid in the field and hitting the right length for more than an over was proving to be a challenge for him.
The changed Thakur was on display on Thursday as he ripped through Maharashtra’s batting line-up on Thursday, snapping up four wickets for 62 runs in 14 overs. More importantly Thakur’s spell broke Maharashtra’s back, leaving them still 183 runs behind Mumbai’s 402-run first innings total and with only three wickets in hand.
On the spot
Thakur didn’t take too long to make an impact. He first had Maharashtra skipper Rohit Motwani trapped in front with a full in-swinging ball. He began his next over with a full ball, but then gradually shortened his length. Off his third ball, Thakur got one to shoot up from just short of good length to hit Harshad Khadiwale on his helmet. Next ball, he pitched it marginally fuller, got it to rise to Khadiwale’s chest and with the batsman opened up, the ball kissed the corner of the bat and into third slip’s hand.
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Thakur, son of a school teacher from Palghar, by now had warmed up to his task at hand. Zaheer was soon into the act too getting one to straighten and clip Zol’s off-stump. The visitors were 24/3. Zaheer smelt blood, putting in a cordon of three slips, two gullies, a short leg and two leg gullies, effectively boxing the batters in.
The two new batsmen at the crease, Kedar Jadhav and Ankeet Bawne, were subjected to a nagging line just a tad short of length, with the ball angling in. Bawne bore the brunt of the assault, getting hit repeatedly on his back and arm. In Thakur’s sixth over, after Bawne shied away from the ball twice, Thakur got a delivery to rear up from good length to strike the 20-year-old flush on his visor. Shaken by the blow, the batsman gloved the next ball, another good length snorter just above Wasim Jaffer at second slip, which the veteran reacted late to.
The tussle between Thakur and Bawne was one that was high on aggression as well as on entertainment. Thakur, the hero with the ball regularly got it to scream past Bawne’s face but whenever the ball was pitched fuller, Bawne pounced. Anything on the pads was whipped away with disdain and a couple of over-pitched deliveries were dispatched to the cover fence with nothing more than a flick of his wrists.
On most other days, Bawne would have been expected to go into his shell. Here, despite his team being under the hammer, the youngster decided to change his approach, quite drastically. He began with welcoming Javed Khan with four boundaries in his first over, as Bawne cut and drove with precision.
Abhishek Nayar was targeted with a booming straight drive before being sent 10 rows back behind long-on.
On a day where he showcased how far he had come in terms of his bowling, Thakur though had the last laugh, as he had Bawne tickle one to the keeper while trying an upper-cut, ending his 84-run counter-punching knock.
Brief scores: Mumbai 402 in 116.3 overs (V Indulkar 82, S Yadav 120; S Fallah 4/103, A Sanklecha 3/77) vs Maharashtra 219/7 in 57 overs (K Jadhav 51, A Bawne 84; S Thakur 62/4, Z Khan 1/40)