The man who kept Ashwin out: How Shardul Thakur got into the swing of things

The outswinger is Shardul’s bread and butter, honed and perfected over years of toil for Mumbai in the domestic circuit

Published: 10th August 2021 08:15 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th August 2021 08:15 PM   |  A+A-

Indian pacer Shardul Thakur | AP

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Right through the course of the World Test Championship (WTC) final in June, a wistful sigh surrounding the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar wouldn’t have been out of place. India had three world-class seam bowlers – Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami and Ishant Sharma – in operation, but none of them is a classical swing bowler in the mould of Bhuvneshwar. They rely more on hitting the deck and getting the ball to jag either way. As well as the trio bowled, they couldn’t get as much help from the Ageas Bowl surface in Southampton as their New Zealand counterparts did.

A lot of introspection during the break seems to have ensued, and the team selection for the first Test against England was reflective of a minor change in approach. Instead of going in with just three pacers and two spinners, an extra pace bowling option was summoned at Trent Bridge in the form of Shardul Thakur. With Thakur’s addition, what India also ensured is the presence of a bowler who relies on the benefits of pitching the ball up – a tad fuller than conventional seam bowlers – and extracting swing. To the credit of the entire attack, all of them bowled a bit fuller in Nottingham and reaped the rewards.  

Shardul’s selection was a gamble that would have led to huge criticism if it had backfired, given that they sacrificed Ashwin – the best spinner going around – in the process. Ashwin has been outstanding in all conditions since the start of 2018 and outbowled spin partner Ravindra Jadeja during the WTC final, claiming four wickets for 45 runs in conditions that had little going for him.

But Shardul’s contribution in Trent Bridge has staved off any such criticism, prompting Kohli to suggest that the template of four pacers and one spinner is likely to continue. “Most likely it will be a template going ahead (4-1 combination), but we've always been adaptable to the conditions,” Kohli said, keeping the door open for Ashwin to return when conditions demand two spinners.  

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For the time being, Shardul has done what was asked of him. The 29-year-old returned with two wickets each in both innings, including the scalp of England captain Joe Root in the first innings. Root was well-set on 64 and the ball was 58 overs old, but Shardul still found prodigious away swing to trap the England No 4 plumb in front.

The outswinger is Shardul’s bread and butter, honed and perfected over years of toil for Mumbai in the domestic circuit. It was his wickets in the second innings that caught the attention of L Balaji, who has worked with Thakur in his capacity as bowling coach of Chennai Super Kings for the last three years. Thakur got the better of Dan Lawrence and Jos Buttler with deliveries that came back into the right-hander.

“He surprised me with the balls that he brought back to Lawrence and Buttler. It looks like he has worked on that delivery recently. His main strength is the outswinger,” Balaji said.          

Shardul's Test career seemed set to go unfulfilled after his Test debut against West Indies in 2018 ended just 10 balls into his spell, an injury to his groin forcing a hasty exit. However, it received an unexpected second wind against Australia at the Gabba in Brisbane earlier this year when a spate of injuries enabled Shardul to get a chance. He seems to have grown in stature since then, taking crucial wickets and scoring handy lower-order runs.

He may not have the array of skills of Bhuvneshwar, the ability to swing the ball both ways without much of a give-away being a speciality of the man from Meerut. Shardul’s propensity, though, to bowl fuller lengths and invite expansive drives rather than fret about the danger of leaking runs is a striking feature. “He will go for runs, but that’s why he gets wickets too. Anybody can bowl an outswinger, but his attacking line and fuller length make him different. He is always bowling at the stumps and never pulls his length back,” explained Balaji.  

While a debate on the merits of keeping a bowler of Ashwin’s calibre out of the playing XI will continue, the wistful sighs at Bhuvneshwar’s absence may become a thing of the past.


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