Shardul Thakur has been in good form, continuing his run in Australia to ending the England tour with two half-centuries in the fourth Test win at The Oval. In a chat with The Indian Express, the 29-year-old pacer talks about his rapid improvement with the bat, the Indian team and the atmosphere in the camp when a support staff member tested positive for Covid-19.
How do you sum up the England tour?
After the Australia’s tour, I was confident that I will do well in England too. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to play in the World Test Championship (against New Zealand), but I had been preparing for playing against England since then. I played the first Test in Trent Bridge, did well with the ball but got out early while batting. It can happen to anyone. I was practicing in the nets and putting in the effort with both batting and bowling. Then I had niggle and knew I won’t be playing next game. Overall though it was a good tour for me.
How much work have you put into your batting?
When I injured my ankle two years ago, it was decided that I need to take my batting seriously. I had the ability in me and going ahead I wanted to contribute in the lower order. I told myself, kuch bhi ho jaye, batting mein acha karna he padega. In the past, there were opportunities which came with the bat too but somehow, I couldn’t make an impact. I told myself ‘aisa nahi chalega.’
Lower order-batsman contributing always helps, and there have been many instances where 40-50 runs make a huge difference. When I made my comeback in the Indian team, I practiced with our throw down specialists Raghu and Nuwan – they are very quick. Initially, I wasn’t able to play them. I tried to improve my footwork when I faced them and slowly-slowly my batting improved. The more I played them the more I got adjusted to the pace. Whatever runs I have scored so far, there has been a process that I have followed, it’s not a coincidence or stroke of luck.
There have been people from the Indian team management, Virat, Rohit, who kept on motivating me. They all said that whenever I bat, I should think the way batsman think. Once I was in Mahi bhai’s (Mahendra Singh Dhoni) room and holding his bat. He told me that my batting grip is too high and I need to hold it lower to get better control over the shot. Now I hold my bat there and it helps.
Were there any instructions for Raghu and Nuwan when you faced them?
No. They normally throw quick, sometime it could go over 150 kmph. When I started to face them, they used to start with normal speed and the more I faced them, they used to increase their throw down speed gradually. I just got used to of playing that speed.
What has been the reason for your confidence while batting?
I don’t think too much when I walk out to bat. I just keep things simple. Since my school days, my coach (Dinesh) Lad Sir used to tell me that the more we think, the more things get complicated. So just try to play straight. For the past five years I have tried to simplify my batting. There are small things I want to follow, like try to be in good position when I’m playing my shot. The more one plays straight, going ahead in the innings, playing cross batted shots become easier.
Six wickets were already down when you went to bat in the first innings at The Oval. What did you tell yourself while going out to bat?
When I went out to bat early, I knew there was a tricky situation. I look at the scoreboard and try to read match situation. I try to read the fielders kept for me. If the situation demands that I need to stick there, I will try to do that. However, in first innings, when I scored a half-century, I wasn’t playing my strokes as long as Rishabh Pant was there with me. I was trying to tap and take singles here and there. Once Rishabh got out, I told myself that runs are important. I didn’t know how much we will survive. I felt that attacking is the best option and somewhere there was a feeling that I was connecting well. So I just went by with it.
After your performance in Brisbane, did you carry the baggage of expectation? Did the attitude towards you in the dressing room change?
I know I can bat, it’s just matter of application. It all depends on how I deliver between those 22 yards. I pick the spots where I can score and where I can’t. After those runs in Brisbane, it was obvious that there has been an impact in the dressing room.
At the same time, my confidence has grown. Now, I get to bat regularly in the nets, which shows the team management trusts me. They have the confidence that whenever I play, I will contribute with the bat as well.
If anyone felt my innings in Brisbane was a fluke, then best wishes to them.
Are you superstitious? Do you have any rituals before any game?
I don’t believe in superstition, instead, I have my routine. Before every game, I do some maintenance work on my ankle because of the surgery I had to undergo two years ago. On match days, I wake up 15 minutes early so that I can stretch my body.
Everyone has some kind of routine they follow. But I’m not the kind of person who will wear the left pad first, or will sit in a specific spot in the bus or dressing room. I have more trust in my game than in superstitions.
Is there an explanation for your knack of getting early wickets?
The way things are going on, especially getting early wickets, I don’t know how or why it happens. If God is giving me this, I will grab it with both hands. Maybe something I’m doing something right somewhere, and that is why I’m getting the result.
Are you happy with the new nickname ‘Lord Thakur’?
These memes are all over social media. I enjoy it. It shows how much love I’m getting from all quarters. I don’t mind such names. Somewhere, I feel I haven’t achieved anything yet, and I don’t want to be in such a position where I feel to be satisfied. I have seen days where the same social media has cursed my presence in the team. For me, what matters is down the line, I want people to remember me as the guy who, whenever he played, made an impact in the game and we won it.
There was a lot going on during the last day of the fourth Test, especially with the Jasprit Bumrah-James Anderson contest…
We were trying to attack Anderson. Something had happened during the Lord’s Test and it was carried to The Oval. I was later told that Anderson said something to Bumrah which he shouldn’t have, I was told they (England team) abused Bumrah. Those words cannot be said in public, so everyone got charged up after this. When we go overseas, our tailenders also face bouncers. In Australia, Natrajan was bowled bouncers by Mitchell Starc and Pat Cummins despite them knowing that this guy hasn’t batted much even in First Class cricket. So now when our opponents’ tailender come to bat then why can’t we bowl bouncers at him? Why shouldn’t we bowl bodyline? We are not playing to please anyone. We are playing there to win.
When England had a good start in the fourth Test, what was the team discussion?
By Lunch the game was equal. Overnight they were some 70 odds runs without any wicket and in the first session the next day we picked up one more wicket. We all had believed that we will win this game from there on. There was nobody who thought about a draw.
The last day-pitch is never easy to play on. We were confident that Jaddu (Ravindra Jadeja) will give us a wicket, so will Bumrah. It was a collective contribution. We have been working hard to see these kind of results. We need to be positive all the time, there is no place of negativity in this dressing room.
On the fourth day evening session, I remember Sam Curran telling me that the wicket is flat and that they will score 100 runs without losing any wicket. I said “don’t worry, I will get breakthrough and you will lose five quick wickets the next day and we will win this game.”
All this somehow came true. Acha time chal raha hai mera, so le lo jeetna mil raha hai.
What was your reaction once you heard Ravi Shastri has tested positive?
I heard someone whispering about it and the general feeling was what will happen next. As the match was on, everyone was focused on the game. It was first time we were without our main support staff.
They used to call us at the end of the day. I spoke to Bharat Arun Sir, he spoke about what kind of line and length I can bowl. If they had any points they used to tell us after the game.
Did the team get worried when the physiotherapist, Parmar, tested positive?
We were worried about what will happen, who will be infected since Parmar had treated everyone. We didn’t know how things would go ahead because tracking this infection is next to impossible. The next four-five days were vulnerable for us because there was fear that it could happen to me or it could happen to anyone. Everyone was worried about their and their family’s health.
At what stage did you realise how important your contribution was?
When I returned dressing room, everyone was happy, and that environment made me felt that I did something good for the team. Ajinkya (Rahane) came rushing and said that he really enjoyed my show. Rohit, whom I have known for a long time, cursed jokingly, and said I should have scored more.
Can you explain the team’s ability to pull off a win despite being in a tough position?
We respect everyone, but we are not scared of any opponent in the world. We not shy of expressing ourselves. The name of the team doesn’t matter to us anymore.
We might be playing Australia, England, New Zealand, South Africa and we will express ourselves. Winning and losing are a part of the game, but how we can increase our winning percentage, that is important. Everyone in the team is determined to win the game. Everyone is ready to put their bodies in the line.
How much impact will Dhoni have on the team as the mentor?
I’m very happy with the decision. I’ve played along with him for three years now, and I know that his experience comes in handy. He will bring more ideas to the team. I think Virat and Ravi bhai will also get some help from him. Mahi bhai will bring one more angle, especially when we’re in tricky situations.