Shardul Thakur
India’s Shardul Thakur celebrates the dismissal of England’s Eoin Morgan during the first ODI against England in Pune on March 23, 2021. Image Credit: ICC/ANI

How should a fast bowler look like? To me, he should be tall, lithe and athletic. Like Jofra Archer. Like Mitchell Starc. And the Rolls-Royce of them all: Michael Holding.

These speedsters are an absolute delight to watch. They don’t sprint in like a Malcolm Marshall. Their languid run-ups almost feel like they are ambling to the crease. No exaggerated leap on the delivery stride. A balanced stride is followed by a swift whipping rush of arms. No tangled limbs here. The ball darts and hisses at the batsmen like a viper. And you wonder where all that pace came from.

Shardul Thakur has none of that. He is not my idea of a pace bowler. Most cricket watchers would agree that Thakur doesn’t look like a fast bowler. He’s more medium pace. But the Indian is capable of clocking around 140 kmph.

A trundler who takes wickets

Yet, he looks the sort of bowler that batsmen would target in limited-over games. I can see Matthew Hayden, Adam Gilchrist, Faf du Plessis and Robin Uthappa stepping out to hit him down the field. That’s what England openers Jonny Bairstow and Jason did in the first One-day International in Pune on Tuesday (March 24, 2021).

Thakur has repeatedly proved that looks don’t matter. Only results matter. He may not be tall. Not menacing at all. Bowls like a trundler. But he takes wickets. Takes them at critical junctures. That’s why he’s precious to the Indian team and the Chennai Super Kings.

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I had a close look at his bowling during the last edition of the Indian Premier League in the UAE. Thakur enjoys the confidence of Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who regularly employs him at the death overs. And his slower deliveries have helped staunch the scoring.

It was his performances for Chennai Super Kings that earned a call-up to the Indian team. So he is deemed an expert in white-ball cricket. Ironically, his first international success came with the red ball, as he turned in the sterling spells in the third and fourth Tests in Australia. That was a surprise. But he proved that he has the skills to take wickets, not just contain the scoring.

Wicket-taking skills are gold in any form of cricket. What’s the secret behind Thakur’s success? He doesn’t have a blistering pace or a banana swing. But he’s got a bag of tricks and a good repertoire of deliveries. He’s the medium pace version of Anil Kumble, a leg-spinner who claimed more than 600 Test wickets without actually spinning the ball.

Much like Kumble, Thakur is a thinking bowler. A wily bowler. Slower balls, off-cutters and a quick bouncer are all wicket-taking deliveries. He strikes when the batsmen take him lightly. That’s what happened in Pune the other day.

How Thakur prevented England recovery

A crushing England chase was halted in its tracks by a two-wicket burst by India debutant Prasidh Krishna. From 135/0, it became 137/2. That was the opening India needed, and Thakur produced another of his incisive spells to grab three wickets in two overs: England were soon 175/5. He had accounted for Bairstow, captain Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler. England never recovered.

Thakur’s brilliance was overshadowed by Krishna’s spell and the electrifying partnership between Krunal Pandya and K.L. Rahul that took the Indian score to over 300. Thakur wouldn’t complain. He’s a quiet sort. In his mind, he knows that he’s done a superb job. And that would keep him going.

To me, Thakur is proof that image is nothing. Only results matter. And Thakur has wickets to show.

More power to his bowling arm.