Less than three weeks ago, fast bowler Shardul Thakur had posted the following message on Twitter: “Will play a semifinal t20 game tomorrow for my club payyade sc..playing a game after 2 months..ipl has done wonders .. Certainly (sic).” The tweet, which has since been deleted, was nothing but the frustration of a 24-year-old cricketer who wasn’t getting to play, and he would have realised later that it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.
Thakur was eventually released by his Indian Premier League franchise, Kings XI Punjab, midway through the season along with some other unused players. He had played just once for the franchise since being bought by them before the 2014 IPL season, but it was no surprise when he told the media that he was hurt by the decision. The Mumbai lad had just come off a remarkable couple of seasons in domestic cricket.
Thakur had been Mumbai’s leading wicket-taker (41 scalps in 11 matches) in the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy season, as the team went on to win the title. He picked up eight wickets in the final against Saurashtra. He was also the joint-highest wicket-taker from all teams in the 2014-15 season, finishing with 48 victims.
“I was really looking forward to doing well in the IPL,” Thakur had told Mid-Day. “It is frustrating because if you ask anyone in the squad, I was working as hard as anyone else in the training sessions.”
On Monday, the Board of Control for Cricket in India rewarded Thakur for his perseverance by including his name in the 17-member squad that will tour the West Indies in July to play four Test matches. Sure, in a squad with pace bowlers like Ishant Sharma, Mohammed Shami, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, it is highly unlikely that Thakur will make his Test debut during the tour.
However, getting to rub shoulders and seek advice from these bowlers will be invaluable to the youngster, and he most definitely will not be complaining this time if he does not get a game, knowing that the Test cap will come soon enough if he keeps performing consistently.
So, how did this young lad from Palghar in Maharashtra, located almost 90 km north of Mumbai, earn his maiden Test call-up? It’s a journey that started more than five years ago, when he used to travel from Palghar to the southern tip of Mumbai every day by train – a journey that used to take three-and-a-half hours one way – to play cricket. His day used to begin at 3.30 am so that he could catch the 4 am train to make it to the ground by 7.30 am.
The Palghar Express, as he is known as in the Mumbai circles, was once also dropped from the Mumbai Under-19 squad for being overweight. In November 2012, he made his first-class debut for Mumbai and returned figures of 1/82 in a match where his weight was discussed more than his bowling, reported The Indian Express. He weighed 83 kg, was only 5’9” tall and even Sachin Tendulkar had told him that he needed to lose some weight if he was serious about cricket.
After receiving a barrage of criticism following a forgettable first season, Thakur shed 13 kg and transformed himself into one of the most promising young fast bowlers on the fringes of the Indian team. Clocking somewhere between 135 and 140 kmph, he isn’t the fastest bowler running in, but he has a natural outswinger and is also capable of bringing the ball into the right-hander.
“I am just trying to do my basics right, bowling outswingers in the corridor and putting batsmen under pressure by not giving them runs and then hitting them with bouncers,” he told DNA in an interview earlier this year. “I keep them guessing and that is working for me. I hope to continue that way,” he said, adding that he likes to intimidate batsmen by staring at them.
Over the last season, with Zaheer Khan injured and Dhawal Kulkarni travelling with the Indian squad, Thakur has been one of the mainstays of Mumbai’s bowling line-up, spearheading the team to a record 41st Ranji Trophy title.
Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that the Palghar Express has found his way into the Indian squad. The 24-year-old had “almost forced his selection” by doing “everything asked of him”, wrote Harsha Bhogle, one of India’s most respected cricket commentators, on Twitter.