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Shardul Thakur isn’t indispenable yet, but he’s not just riding on luck

Shardul Thakur being a lucky bowler is a wrong perception
by Rohit Sankar 5 minute read

It’s easy to label Shardul Thakur as a hit-me bowler who gets ‘lucky’ wickets, but there’s much more to the Indian all-rounder, as he has been showing in the limited-overs series against England.

Shardul Thakur made a record during the recent T20I series against England unbeknownst to most. He became the fastest Indian bowler to get to 30 wickets in T20Is. It’s not a headline-worthy milestone, especially as it has come with an economy rate of over nine runs per over, but a strike-rate of 14.6 in the format is rather good.


How good exactly? Among fast bowlers from full member nations, only five have recorded a better T20I strike-rate while taking as many wickets as him. Needless to say, it’s the best from India for a fast bowler. None above him, fast bowler or spinner, have a worse economy rate, though. It speaks to what Thakur is often perceived as: a hit-me bowler who gets ‘lucky’.

Since the start of 2020, Shardul Thakur has been a constant part of India’s white-ball plans. He’s played 15 of the 16 T20Is, joint-most by an Indian alongside Virat Kohli, KL Rahul and Shreyas Iyer. He’s also played six of the 10 ODIs. While he’s the second-highest wicket-taker in ODIs, he’s the highest in T20Is by a large distance with 23 wickets as against 10 by the next best.

What has stood out, though, is his ability to take wickets in clusters and play a big hand in changing the course of matches. In his last three matches in the ongoing series against England, Thakur has made a massive impact with the ball in one spell.

In the fourth T20I, England were going great guns at 140-4 in pursuit of 186 when Thakur came in and sent back Ben Stokes and Eoin Morgan in the same over. He later conceded a six and a four in the final over against Jofra Archer but defended the target to take India home by eight runs.

In the following game, chasing 225, Jos Buttler’s wicket brought Jonny Bairstow to the crease in the 13th over. Bairstow had made a huge impact with his quickfire knocks from No.4 in the series and with a set Dawid Malan at the other end, England could dream of a run-chase still. The game turned on its head, tilting firmly India’s way, after Thakur’s over, the 15th of the innings, that saw him send back Bairstow and Malan in the space of four balls.

In the first ODI on Tuesday, Thakur was once again at it. Bairstow’s brilliant attack from the top had put England well ahead in the win probability percentages after the 20th over. WinViz by CricViz had England’s win probability at 81% before the halfway mark when Thakur – 2-0-22-0 until then – returned for a second spell. In his next two overs, Thakur dismissed Bairstow, Morgan and Buttler, the entire icing in England’s creamy batting layer. The win percentage shot down to 28% after those two overs.

Thakur’s methods are simple. Opposition batsmen look to line him up as the weak link in India’s attack, but Thakur takes it as an advantage, using it to deceive them with his slower variations and length. Often bowling a hard length and switching between cross seamers and cutters, Thakur gets back at the batsman even if he gets hit.

His wickets in the 2020 IPL season speak of a bowler who can deceive some of the biggest hitters in the circuit: Andre Russell, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Nicholas Pooran (twice), Shubman Gill, Devdutt Padikkal, AB de Villiers, Marcus Stoinis and Rashid Khan.

Much of that is down to how Thakur has been out-thinking batsmen with his length and pace variations. After topping the wickets chart in the T20Is in New Zealand right before the pandemic in early 2020, Thakur spoke of not being bothered about conceding runs as long as he picks wickets.

“It’s okay to go for runs. Not every time will you end up bowling extraordinarily,” Thakur said. “But if you’re going to win the game. I think this way, if I’m going to go for 20 runs [in an over] then how can I cut it down to 16 or how can I cut it down to 14 or 15.

“The difference of four-five runs, if we are defending, in the end, the team, instead of needing 10 runs, will need 15 runs, or if we’re bowling first then we’ll have to score those many runs less. That’s how I motivate myself, that’s what I keep telling myself.”

The off-cutter is his go-to weapon in limited-overs cricket now, particularly against left-handers as he turns into an off-spinner of sorts to ask the batsmen to hit him against the turn or generate their own power when slogging. Combine it with a cross seamer, a knuckleball and the ability to bowl a skiddy fuller ball, and Thakur is a decent package to have in white-ball cricket, especially considering that two of the next three limited-overs World Cups happen in India where his methods are likely to have more success. That he has become more confident in himself also helps Thakur’s case.

“With Shardul (Thakur), I feel that his confidence has gone quite up. He is a very smart cricketer, and he reads the game quite well. He is always getting us the breakthroughs which we need at the right time, with his skill and smartness. I feel he is in a great zone, and he is enjoying his cricket. I am really happy to see that the fast bowlers are getting us the breakthroughs,” Shikhar Dhawan said in the press conference after the first ODI against England.

Add in his ability with the bat – he has the best batting strike-rate among Indian batsmen in both T20Is (197.14) and ODIs (145.28) when batting more than one innings at least. With a few mini cameos, Thakur has stood out as a viable No.8 batsman in these formats.

This isn’t to say Thakur is indispensable. On his off day, Thakur could indeed be a weak link in the attack as his questionable economy rate reveals, but without really looking to deviate from his attacking route with the ball, Thakur has found a success mantra. In the last few months, he’s probably done just enough to ward off any doubts surrounding his place in the XI at least.

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