12th May, 2019, Hyderabad, the Chennai Super Kings have made an almighty mess of their run-chase in the IPL final when Shardul Thakur strides out to bat. Moments ago, Shane Watson, who had been batting with a bloodied knee, ran himself out at the batter’s end, meaning that Shardul was cast into the eye of the storm.
Before that game, the fast bowler had only mustered 12 runs across the whole season and had been part of a game-changing final-ball run-out when CSK clashed swords with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Thus, it’s fair to say that the Yellow Army were hoping for Shardul to come up trumps, rather than expecting him to do so.
Lasith Malinga – the archetypal death bowler and arguably the greatest the sport has ever seen, glides in and hurls a length delivery on leg stump. Shardul gets into position and swipes it towards deep square leg for a couple of runs.
The equation, which earlier read 4 off 2 balls, now stands at 2 off 1 ball, with Shardul on strike and even a solitary run guaranteeing CSK a Super Over, at the very least. Countless minutes of discussions follow among the Mumbai Indians players. Shardul also has a gaze around and field and seems to assess his options.
This time, though, the old fox has a different ace up his sleeve. In the 16th over, when Malinga was carted for 20 runs, he largely opted to bowl yorkers – most of which were bowled at his regular speed. However, when the decisive moment came calling, the Sri Lankan unfurls a slower delivery on a length – a delivery that Shardul plays all over and is dismissed LBW.
In a trice, Shardul becomes the pantomime villain of the entire episode. All CSK needed was for Shardul to find a way to get bat on ball. But he failed.
And, Malinga? Of course, he became the hero who was paraded around the ground, with Shardul, in particular, left ruing what could’ve been. That could’ve been Shardul’s coronation moment, you know. But it wasn’t.
Fast forward two years and the pacer finds himself thrown into the deep end again – this time with the ball. The Kolkata Knight Riders openers have characteristically blazed away in the opening four overs and have made CSK’s first-innings total of 192 look less daunting.
Shubman Gill has produced a few strokes for the ages and Venkatesh Iyer has been, well, Venkatesh Iyer. When Shardul is called upon to bowl the 5th over, he not only has to curb the run-flow but he also has to provide CSK with the vital breakthrough – breakthroughs that he has regularly provided during the UAE leg of IPL 2021.
On Friday, though, Shardul is ripped apart in his first over. The first four balls are decent but the last two deliveries are reminiscent of the inconsistencies that plagued the earlier part of his career. Both deliveries were fired down the leg side and while Iyer was fortuitous on one occasion, it still allowed KKR to continue generating a head of steam.
Shardul Thakur picked up three wickets in the IPL final
Then, as it has almost always happened with Shardul lately, the game turned on its head – all in the blink of an eye and in the space of four balls (3 legal and one wide). The 11th over, which was to be delivered by the pacer, didn’t carry any menace, prima facie. Yet, it had just enough to tilt the scales firmly in CSK’s favor.
The fourth ball he bowled was just away from Venkatesh’s hitting arc, meaning that he sliced his cover drive uppishly towards deep point, where Ravindra Jadeja gobbled up a tough chance. Two balls later, Nitish Rana was outfoxed by the pace (or lack thereof) as he chipped the ball tamely to Faf du Plessis at mid-off.
In the next over that Shardul bowled, he accounted for a hamstrung Rahul Tripathi, meaning that he had, over the course of two splendid overs, broken the back of the KKR run-chase. He had also ensured that CSK, who had been left scratching their heads during the first half of their bowling innings, had their eyes set on lifting the trophy.
Over the years, there hasn’t been a lot that has made people sit up and take notice of Shardul. He bowls in the 135-140 km/hr range and isn’t as adroit at swinging the ball as someone like Bhuvneshwar Kumar or Deepak Chahar. He isn’t as great an exponent of seam as Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami either.
Yet, in the past few months, he has illustrated that he has the soothsaying ability of being a step ahead of the batter. Or, in simpler terms, the ability to devise methods to pick up wickets, even when it seems most improbable.
In IPL 2021, CSK have been heavily reliant on the fast bowlers breaking open games and that is something that India would hope continues at the T20 World Cup too.
Off the bat, there is nothing very noticeable about Shardul, apart from the fact that he keeps finding ways to dismiss batters. Not just any batters, he has developed a knack of sending the opposition’s best batters back into the hut by being an enigma and by being in the game at all times.
Again, this didn’t seem to be the virtue that Shardul seemed to posses a while back. Maybe this could be something that he has evolved in the past couple of years, especially with more exposure in the IPL and international cricket.
The net result, though, is that he has morphed into a genuine partnership-breaker and one who doesn’t seem to be too reliant on the conditions because, well, he doesn’t seem too adept at one particular bowling element.
On the flip side, he isn’t shabby in any bowling department, meaning that even when there is no rhyme or reason for the batter to get dismissed, the pacer forces through an explanation.
As far as his temperament is concerned, it is quite revealing that he made amends on the very stage where his character was questioned – all those months ago in Hyderabad.
Shardul has most definitely vanquished the ghosts of the 2019 IPL final and, to an extent, even set himself up for greater things.
Usually, cricketers are slightly averse to heeding social media, considering the toxic environment it can harbor. Shardul, on the contrary, has embraced the “Lord Shardul Thakur” title bestowed upon him completely. So much so that he seems to find a way to every quandary that confronts him.
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Well, that’s what cricket is about – finding the light at the end of the darkest and most dreary tunnels. And, Shardul, as he has portrayed recently, has stumbled upon a formula to get things done. No questions asked. No answers explained.