@swaris16 8 minute read
Released by Sunrisers Hyderabad despite showing great promise, Shashank Singh talks to Sarah Waris about the challenges of being a finisher, his lessons from the IPL, and his recent injury.
The first ball Shashank Singh faced in the IPL came at 150.4 kph. He lofted it over extra cover for four. Later in the innings, he smashed three successive sixes off Lockie Ferguson – who clocked 157.3 kph in the same tournament – to leave the world talking.
“When I went to Sunrisers Hyderabad, on the first day, Brian Lara [batting coach] saw me at the nets and asked me, ‘Why haven’t you played in the IPL till now? You have all the shots’,” says Shashank, who went from Delhi Capitals to Rajasthan Royals before finally making his IPL debut against Chennai Super Kings.
Even then, he had to wait until his sixth match to get a chance to bat. When the chance came, he was determined to live up to Lara’s expectations: “I had to prove myself to him whenever I got the chance. I couldn’t let him down.”
It took him only six balls to show his mettle, displaying his range and capturing the attention of viewers instantly. After watching from the dugout as the top order finished off games in each of his first five matches, he was eager to make it count when he finally got a chance.
After hitting Alzarri Joseph for four off the first ball he faced, he went on a six-hitting spree against Ferguson. He shuffled across to hit a short-pitched ball over deep mid-wicket before using his pace to send a low full-toss over fine-leg. The last ball of the innings was pitched up, which Shashank lofted to complete a hat-trick of sixes.
The sixes were planned cleverly: “The ramp shot was all about smartness. The fielder at short fine leg was up, and the previous ball he had bowled a bouncer, so I knew he was going to pitch it up. After hitting him for a six, I knew the next ball could be fuller and I adjusted accordingly.”
Great partnership between @IamAbhiSharma4 and @AidzMarkram Abhishek growing to maturity and markram beautiful to watch !! Par yeh #shashank kaun hai bhai ? 🤔 what hitting 💪 so who’s winning !! ? #SRHvsGT my guess Gt cause we all need nehra ji ki smile 😁
— Yuvraj Singh (@YUVSTRONG12) April 27, 2022
— Harbhajan Turbanator (@harbhajan_singh) April 27, 2022
As he walked away with an unbeaten six-ball 25, Lara was one of the first to hug him. He ended up scoring 69 runs in five innings in IPL 2022 – off 47 balls. Although he was unable to make headlines in his remaining games, Shashank chooses to take the positives, something he has imbibed from his conversations with Suryakumar Yadav and MS Dhoni.
“I had a word with Suryakumar Yadav a few years ago. We played age-group cricket for Mumbai, and even for Parsi Gymkhana together. He told me that if you bat at No. 6 or 7, you will get a lot of hate and criticism because you can change the game either way. But people who play cricket know how crucial that position is.
“This year, I had a word with Dhoni. He told me that if you are playing 10 games as a finisher and doing well in two, then you are right up to the mark. If you are finishing off three games successfully, then either you are Michael Bevan or MS Dhoni. Those were his words. I got a hell lot of confidence. People who are at that level know that it’s not easy to score 25 in a few deliveries or hit three sixes in the death. The guy who plays as a finisher needs to be ultra smart and ultra quick. You have to be a step ahead of them and the fielding captain.”
Shashank’s WhatsApp display picture features him taking in Dhoni’s advice. He looks awed, but this is not merely a fanboy moment, for the words left a deep impact on him: “He told me not to be harsh on myself because you cannot score runs in every game, especially batting at that number. I would be harsh on myself, thinking that I have to do well every time. He lived his life that way and he’s someone I follow. He also gets criticism so many times, but he remains the best in the world. That conversation really helped me.”
It was India’s semi-final defeat in the 1996 World Cup that prompted Shashank’s father, an IAS officer, to push his son towards cricket. There has been no looking back since. After playing at under-15 and under-17 level for Madhya Pradesh, Shashank had to start afresh when his father got transferred to Mumbai: “My dad took me to Vidya Paradkar, who was Zaheer Khan’s and Ajinkya Rahane’s coach in Mumbai. Paradkar Sir continues to remain my coach, and he helped me on so many levels when I was a youngster.”
But making a market in Mumbai – the strongest team in India – was not easy. “Everyone is talented in Mumbai, but I managed to do well in white-ball cricket. Though it was just four games. I scored runs in the Kanga League and then I represented Mumbai in the under-19, under-21, under-23 and under-25 levels.”
Shashank made his Vijay Hazare Trophy [VHT] and Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy [SMAT] debuts in 2015. On List A debut, he scored a run-a-ball 39, walking out to bat at 179-4 in a run chase of 255. He also gave glimpses of his big-hitting skills in his 20-over SMAT debut, scoring a 13-ball 21 on debut while batting at No.4.
Just as he was cosying up to professional cricket, reality struck, with chances limited due to the immense talent pool in Mumbai. He played only more three List A games for Mumbai – all in 2015 – and he turned out in a total of 15 T20 games till 2018. “If I was doing well, a hundred others were doing well too. They were fighting for the same spot. It is tough.”
Then came the biggest decision, of switching teams to get more playing time. Yet to make his first-class debut, Shashank had a number of discussions with Paradkar and former India player Abey Kuruvilla, also the director of his club cricket team DY Patil. Then, in 2019, he decided to return to his state of birth. “The hard move was to switch to Chhattisgarh. It was a hard move because I’ve played all my peak years for Mumbai, and I wanted to play for Mumbai. But obviously, sometimes, it does not pan out as you want and you have to switch gears. The truth was, everyone who was playing for Mumbai was in excellent form and performing. It was tough to even get in the 15.”
The switch came with challenges: “Chhattisgarh is still developing. The talent is there but the infrastructure, the grounds and the practice facilities are still not developed because the state itself is developing. I have practised at DY Patil most of my life. There you have great indoor facilities, turf wickets, a pool, a gym and most importantly, good nutrition. When you come to Raipur, you have to search for these things as the city is still developing.
“I have my house in Mumbai, so coming all the way to Raipur and staying in a hotel for months was tough. The hard part is the travel and the food as well. Ghar ka khana [home-cooked food] is so important. We all stay in hotels during competitions but at least during camps we are allowed to go to our houses and stay at home. But I have to stay in hotels even then. Also, the people were welcoming but it does take time to warm up to them. They are a set of players who have been around for years, and then an outsider comes and people say, ‘Arey yaar, he’s an outsider’. That’s the tough part.”
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Shashank’s hurdles did not stop there. Having batted in the top order for most of his life in T20 cricket, he realised that he had to assume the role of a finisher. Chhattisgarh, after all, had a solid top three in Akhil Herwadkar, Amandeep Khare, and captain Harpreet Bhatia: “When I started playing T20s, I was an opener. I would open for Mumbai and my company, DY Patil. I’ve opened with Shreyas for Mumbai and was always a top-order batter. I did play at No.5 or 6 for Mumbai in List A because the team had the likes of Shreyas, Rahane and Rohit Sharma at the top, but it was different in T20s.
“But with time, you have to realise what the team needs and what the combination is. Once I came to Chhattisgarh, I realised the opening and top-order spots were sealed by players who have done well in that role for the last few years. I had two options: Switch my playing role or wait for my turn. So I switched to batting in the middle order.”
His new role is challenging, but he feels he is equipped to handle the pressure. “I feel an opener can bat at any number because he has to face the new ball and then build an innings. I believed I could finish off games and I improved my bowling too to make myself handier to the team. I batted at No.s 5 and 6 for Chhattisgarh in my debut season in 2019 and that gave me confidence.”
That year, he scored 189 runs at a strike rate of 109 as Chhattisgarh qualified for the VHT semi-final for the first time. His personal highlight was a 43-ball 40 against Mumbai on debut for his new team. “I didn’t score many runs, but I scored crucial runs. It’s tough to score big runs at the position but your team knows that the runs you make matter. I was doing that well, and I know I was contributing. I feel I’m not a slogger because after batting at the top, you know how to play through the innings.”
He walked the talk against Gujarat Titans this year, gauging the game situation from the dressing-room before walking out to bat. The innings also highlighted the maturity that has come into his game, which is an indirect result of sitting on the bench, questioning his skills and self-reflecting on ways to become a world conqueror.
Despite the praise from the management, despite the sparks of brilliance, despite the obvious signs that he could be a dangerous finisher, Shashank was released by Sunrisers Hyderabad. It was a curious move, for the dearth of finishers across the country had forced India to recall Dinesh Karthik from the commentary box to the national side.
It hurt, but Shashank continues to be optimistic despite the snub: “I got a call at 4.45 pm on November 15 [the deadline for announcing the list of cricketers for the IPL 2023 auction], saying I had been released. To be honest, I was not ready for that because I thought they’d retain me. I was sad, but there are a few teams who are looking for someone, and I think I have done decently. I wouldn’t say I haven’t done well in the IPL. Every time I went out to bat, it was a tough situation and whatever I could do, I did. If I get to play this time, I will be smarter. If Sunrisers Hyderabad buys me back, I’ll be very happy. I know I will fit in some teams. But I also know that IPL auctions are all about luck.”
He also suffered a left hamstring injury a few days ahead of the VHT in November. The injury left him frustrated, for it deprived him of the opportunity to showcase his skills to franchises ahead of the auction: “The worst part was that I missed the VHT and could not prove that I was a good player. Whatever you do in the last one month, matters. People hardly remember what you have done before, they don’t see what you have done in the last season.
“In the 2022 SMAT, I faced only 36 balls, as most games were either washed out or the top-order finished games. Missing the VHT was more hurtful than the release as I felt helpless. I even thought I’d go and play with my injury also but obviously, people stopped me and said there are bigger things for you. I won’t lie, I keep thinking I lost a chance because I didn’t play in the VHT. But then, injuries are injuries. I have done good things and I hope things go well for me.”
Shashank used to bowl right-arm spin in his under-19 days, but has now switched to medium pace. His fielding has won accolades from Sachin Tendulkar, no less. He will be hopeful of showing off his all-round skills after recovering well in time for this year’s Ranji Trophy. Having switched teams primarily to play red-ball cricket, Shashank made his first-class debut in 2019 and has since scored a hundred and four fifties in 12 innings. Opportunities have not been consistent, but he has shown sparks of brilliance wherever he has gone.
Shashank now awaits a longer rope, a team he can call home and a side that will recognise what he brings to the table, backing him despite the failures that will invariably come with the high-risk job that he has voluntarily chosen.