India’s series win over Sri Lanka, ending with the 78-run win in Pune on Friday, was not unpredictable, but the manner in which the home team managed to find unlikely heroes emerging when they needed was.
The series was supposed to be headlined by the return of Jasprit Bumrah, but the No. 1 ODI bowler in the world was surprisingly overshadowed by his pace colleagues Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur in the series.
The two pacers – usually considered to be backup options for the national team – have staked claim to being frontline options by virtue of their showings. Thakur was named the Man of the Match in the 3rd T20I while Saini was named the Man of the Series.
Coming of age in international cricket
Saini’s figures in the two matches of the series were 2/18 and 3/28. The pacer from Karnal seems to have found his stride in international cricket. His best figures remain the 3/17 he returned on debut vs West Indies last year, but he showed more control in the Sri Lanka series.
Shardul Thakur’s bowling figures from the series were commendable as well – 3/23 and 2/19. However, it is the long handle of his bat – which, incidentally, is still without a bat sponsor – that has taken the Indian team by storm in recent matches.
His 6-ball 17 had been crucial as India chased down 316 in the recent ODI series against West Indies, as India found a finisher they never knew they had. On Friday, Thakur came up with another cameo with the bat. His 8-ball 22, which included one majestic six off Lasith Malinga and another off Lahiru Kumara, gave India a push in the final stage as they recovered from a middle order collapse.
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Shardul Thakur, interestingly, has a tremendous batting record in international cricket. He has batted five times for India and has been out only once – in an ODI vs Hong Kong. His scores for India have been 22* and 17* in ODIs, 4* in the solitary Test he played and 22* in T20Is.
As a result, Thakur does not have a batting average in Tests and T20Is yet, because he has never been out. In ODIs, his batting average is 39.
Chances of making T20 World Cup squad
With the T20 World Cup to be played in Australia later this year, India could want two seam bowling all-rounders in their squad. Assuming Hardik Pandya is one, Shardul Thakur might even have made a case for himself to be considered as an alternative to Shivam Dube.
Saini, on the other hand, has made a case for himself to be considered as one of many options available to the selectors when they select the bowling department.
Apart from Jasprit Bumrah, who can be considered to be a certainty in the team, India have Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammed Shami, Deepak Chahar, with the likes of Prasidh Krishna also waiting in the wings.