Shardul Thakur – The rejected number 10 who rose as a hero
Shardul Thakur has been hogging the limelight for more than a decade in some capacity. If you’re an avid cricket follower, to the extent that you keep track of what’s happening at the club or school level, you may have seen pictures of Shardul Thakur in newspapers for putting in good performances, most notably, for hitting six sixes for his school team back in 2006.
He made his debut in international cricket during an ODI against Sri Lanka and had number 10 on his back. Indian fans on social media were left fuming, a number adorned by the great Sachin Tendulkar, according to them, should never have been handed to another cricketer. The pressure had intensified so much on social media, the cricketer from Mumbai had to apologize to the fans and give up the jersey number.
This was perhaps no disrespect to Thakur as a cricketer, but more of a frustration to see a cricketer try to be in the shoes of the one who is their God. Maybe any other person also would’ve received similar slack.
But in the present day, looking at this cricketer working his skin out to help his side register big wins, you may begin to wonder if the fans would accept that number now. Maybe not, but they’d be less angry, perhaps.
A lot of fans who do not follow the sport as avidly must be wondering what makes these Indian fans go gaga over this cricketer, who isn’t even one of the popular names. Before we get to that, there is a lot about his career that must be acknowledged and appreciated.
Shardul Thakur’s slow and steady growth with Chennai Super Kings (CSK)
This was the time when he was just about making an impression in the domestic circuit, had a good outing with Rising Pune Supergiant in the IPL. He was past 25, and when cricketers don’t make it big at least at the IPL level by this age, the pressure reeks in and some of them start to take big decisions. He persevered.
It took Thakur a reasonably long time to make his presence felt. Chennai Super Kings purchased him in 2018, and he had remained with the franchise until 2021. When he started out, he was often a liability in the bowling attack conceding way too many runs with his change-ups and not-so-well-worked-out cutters.
He looked keener on getting into the heads of the batters, but it is no cakewalk, definitely not so in the shortest format. But despite being expensive, there was a tinge of promise as he returned with 16 wickets. Although a lot of fans were worried about his economy (which was outrageously high at 9.23), Dhoni decided to back his approach.
His next IPL campaign was poorer, returning with 8 wickets in 10 games at an economy even higher than before. Adding salt to the wound was him facing the final ball of the IPL final against Mumbai Indians with Chennai needing 2 runs to win in 1 ball. Lasith Malinga’s slower delivery outclassed him, and Thakur was left crestfallen.
CSK coaching staff member Eric Simons recalled that day after watching Thakur take 7 wickets against South Africa. He was left inconsolable, according to the coach, and just sat in a corner for a long time.
He was so disappointed, he never intended to live one such day again and if there is anything one must know about the 30-year-old from Palghar, it is his insatiable hunger to reach for the stars and to prove his doubters wrong. His moment to shine did not come any time soon, but when it did, it made everyone in the world take note.
A trailer in Australia, followed by miracles in England and South Africa
When Shardul Thakur boarded the flight to Australia in November 2020, he was only a part of the ODI squad. He wasn’t in contention to add more Test caps after making a pretty unnoticed debut in 2018 against West Indies. But with the Indian players succumbing to injuries like a pack of cards falling, some players were asked to stay back, and even the reserves made it to the XI.
He was called up for the Gabba Test, where he instantly made an impact with the bat, keeping India alive with a sensational half-century. He then returned with a few wickets as well to propel the side to a famous victory. Not until then did this cricket frenzy nation realize what a fruitful cricketer this man can be, and with the right backing over the 12 months that followed, he just kept rising upward.
Thakur impressed in England with the bat and ball, he was also CSK’s star with the ball throughout the campaign, finishing as the third-highest wicket-taker in the tournament as they lifted their fourth IPL title. Once again in South Africa, he is donning every cap the team asks him to.
He picked up wickets, not one, not two, not three, not even five but seven of them in one single innings, when the hosts were running away towards a big total. He scored vital 28 runs to help India post a more competitive total, and every time he holds the ball, an entire nation leans forward in front of their screen with hopeful eyes. If this isn’t a fairytale turnaround, one has to wonder what is.
Irrelevant of the result of this Test match, Thakur’s performance will be remembered and revered for many years.