In the buildup to the ODI World Cup at home, there is no dead rubber for Team India. Every game is an opportunity for someone to put their hand up and stake their claim for a place in the World Cup squad.
Like he has done many times before, Shardul Thakur did just that with his impactful performance with both bat and ball in the third ODI against New Zealand on Tuesday, which saw him win the Player of the Match award.
A player that has both fans and critics polarized, Shardul has become a fairly integral part of the Indian team in all formats despite not being an automatic starter in any. However, he brings to the table certain strengths that should make him a shoo-in for the World Cup squad.
On that note, here are three reasons why Shardul Thakur should make India's squad for the 2023 ODI World Cup.
#3 A Good pacer for Indian surfaces
Shardul Thakur is an interesting type of fast bowler. He doesn't have express pace, but nor is he that slow that he needs to rely on his swing and accuracy to carry his bowling. He has managed to find a place in and perform well in all three formats, with his credentials in red-ball cricket not getting the credit they deserve.
He's more of a hit-the-deck bowler with a good range of change-ups but doesn't rely on those variations either, unlike someone like Dwayne Bravo or Andrew Tye.
Rather, it has more to do with toying with the batter and hitting the right lengths with the hope of inducing a false attacking stroke. During the World Cup, we're likely to see wickets that don't offer much help for fast bowlers, and having someone like Shardul as a squad option for these games will prove handy.
#2 He's a strike bowler
The Mumbai-born cricketer is one of those bowlers who always makes things happen. There's definitely a correlation between his high economy rate and his wicket-taking ability, with batters always tempted to go after him and that often results in their downfall.
Many successful sides around the world have relied on partnership-breakers to turn the game around for them in crucial moments. Despite accusations that he leaks too many runs on multiple occasions, having a bowler who you can count on to make something happen is a luxury any captain would like to have.
While his place in the playing XI can be a question, there shouldn't be one as to his place in the World Cup squad. Forget his batting, Shardul deserves to be in the Indian squad for his highly impactful bowling alone.
#1 A very effective batter that lengthens India's tail
Dismissing lower-order batters has proved to be an Achilles heel for the Indian bowlers for a while now. While it speaks a lot about our own bowlers, the fact that we've had to deal with opposition tails wagging in so many series shows that India's lower-order batting is poor when compared to other teams at the World Cup.
Forget the epitome of a team with batting depth, England, or even New Zealand, even fellow subcontinental sides in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh have better batting depth than us. And in a crunch tournament like this where anything can happen, you can't go into a match with Mohammed Shami or Jasprit Bumrah as your No. 8 batter.
Shardul Thakur has proved his mettle as a batter capable of taking on bowlers and scoring runs, not just surviving at the crease. He has played crucial knocks with the bat across formats and is a clean striker of the ball. His presence gives India much-needed batting depth, which is absolutely necessary in a tournament like this.