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Shardul Thakur’s playbook

Medium pacer banks on instinct, is unafraid to follow his own plans even if risky, says Balaji, CSK’s bowling coach.

Written by Sriram Veera | Mumbai |
Updated: March 26, 2021 2:08:15 pm
Shardul Thaku celebrates the wicket of England cricketer Jonny Bairstow during the first One Day International cricket match between India and England (Source: PTI)

“He is a bowler who picks up wickets with the same deliveries with which he can also give runs, you know what I mean?” Lakshmipathy Balaji, Chennai Super Kings’s bowling coach, makes an interesting point about medium pacer Shardul Thakur.

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Perhaps, no better explanation exists. “A bouncer, an outswinger off a length, a slower back-of-length off-cutter, a knuckle-ball bouncer… all these can be hit for boundaries. All these get him wickets too. He is someone I want in my team. You can always bank on him picking wickets. As a team management, we don’t worry too much about the runs.”

Thakur goes by his instinct to bowl a particular delivery. The secret lies in the ‘amazing self-belief and conviction’ to come up with a ball which others would not, says Balaji. Like a bouncer to a batsman known to pull well and on a pitch that isn’t conducive for it.

“He will go for it because something tells him he can surprise the batsman. Some days it flies for four, other days he gets the wicket. In his mind, he is an 80’s West Indian bowler! Loves his bouncers and the surprise full-ones curving away” Balaji laughs.

Pre-injury, he could have consistently fired away at pace. But injuries have affected his readings on the speed gun.

“Luckily not by much as he still can make the batsmen hurry,” Balaji says. “In his mind, though, he is still very pacy! He wants to be someone his captain can depend on to take wickets to turnaround a game, someone the captain can depend on to hit a six off the last ball to win a match. Some people can shy away from those moments; not Shardul.”

At Chennai Super Kings, the team management has placed trust in Thakur’s instincts. If Thakur knows the captain and coach believe in him, it gets him fired up and keeps him in the right frame of mind. A hand on the shoulder, an encouraging word that he is a match-winner is all it takes, Balaji says.

“More you trust him, the better that instinct gets, I have noticed,” Balaji says. “Like MS Dhoni does with him in IPL. Like Kohli does with him in India,” Balaji says. “We often used him in crunch situations. In the end overs. Or in the middle, when wickets are needed. When I say pat on the back etc, I don’t mean he is someone who needs that kind of encouragement. Rather, a pat on the back is needed to show that he is trusted and the team believes that he can do it. His self-confidence is amazing. He walks up to Dhoni to say what he wants.”

Like he did when he asked to be promoted in the batting order in the IPL team.

The evolution of Thakur the ODI bowler is a far cry from the perceptions that floated around not too long ago.

‘He is a red-ball bowler,’ was the often-used throwaway line about Thakur.

It didn’t seem too harsh a judgment too as he would operate in two lengths: short or float it full. Both can potentially leak runs. But something changed.

“His ambition. His desire for self-learning. Nothing has changed in the core, it’s just that he realized that he had to develop other deliveries to stay successful. And let it not be thought that it was me who got him to do all these different balls like the knuckleball and the cutters. He did it all by himself. He would go into extra practice sessions, train hard. Even the full ball outside off stump for example, the wide yorker as it’s called. He realized he needed to do it to not just survive but to excel.”

At CSK, the team management has placed trust in Thakur’s instincts.(Source: BCCI)

Adding variety

The need to add variety had to do with the constraints of his bowling action.

“It’s very important to realise the role of bowling action. Thakur’s action makes it difficult to develop a lot of defensive options, to stop a batsman. The two lengths he hits comes from the action. To hit the in-between lengths, he developed the cutters and such, which in some ways is a variation from his regular activities. His is a classic action that can help in bowling outswingers and bowl bouncers when he whips his right arm down. He is not like a Bumrah or some others who can consistently bowl yorkers. He has deliberately developed a whole lot of other deliveries to make up for it.”

Thakur’s conviction in his own methods was seen when he decided to go against the leg-theory deployed by the rest of the bowling attack in Australia and went with outswingers and bouncers, his staple. The conviction is seen when he tries to bounce out a well-set Jonny Bairstow in Pune.

Sometimes, it fails him, with ball and bat. “I remember the 2019 IPL final,” Balaji says. CSK needed four runs off the last two balls of the game, off Mumbai Indians’ Lasith Malinga. Thakur got two off the first, but off the final ball of the game, fell lbw, swiping across the line.

“He was very distressed when he came to the dressing room. There were tears in his eyes. I remember telling him, ‘that this is part of life’s experience. Every cricketer, from club to country, goes through this.’ You know what, within months Sri Lanka came to India for some series, and he whacks Malinga for a straight six. Then he blasts more shots against West Indies. In Australia, he bats outstandingly. He is now an allrounder! It’s important for him because for someone like him who can go for some runs occasionally, to have that extra opportunity to play a role with the bat in the game is mighty important for confidence.”

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