“I don’t even know where it came from,” uttered Shardul Thakur once he picked up the Player of the Match award.
Thakur isn’t out of the syllabus, Thakur is the syllabus. Wickets were crumbling like cookies, batters were being blown to smithereens.
It wasn’t meant to be the night for Kolkata Knight Riders, it wasn’t supposed to go down this way but yet it did, if that isn’t ultimate power – Thakur – then none is. The score was 89/5, and KKR had already lost Venkatesh Iyer, Mandeep Singh, Rahmanullah Gurbaz and Andre Russell but the biggest batter on the night, Thakur was yet to bat.
When he walked out, there wasn't an electric guitar riff, and there wasn't any band performing but his introduction caused all the right harmony.
But Thakur isn’t "batters". The 31-year-old’s talent with the bat isn’t a mystery anymore. In his relatively young international career, he’s at least had a hand in three-match winning clashes for India. But all of it came in the longer formats, the question always surrounded his worth in the T20s, in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
One dismal year was enough for people to count him out. Delhi Capitals would not be wrong in being mighty disappointed, for the money that they spent, the value was nowhere close. But you can’t quite equate Thakur that way. He is un-understandable. Like how un-understandable isn’t a word, just like that.
When Shardul Thakur walked out to bat, KKR’s win percentage was 34%, and it was at their home.
Two wickets in two balls, Karn Sharma is ripping apart here at the Eden Gardens. The crowd has gone silent, but a big portion of RCB fans are up on their feet. RCB, RCB, RCB, the cheers are not what you would have expected at the Eden but the pull that Kohli has at the venue is quite the thing.
Facing a hat-trick, the pressure would have been on any batter but not Thakur. He gets a boundary off the first ball, and that’s the first sign of things for RCB. Akash Deep was just warming up to return, and so was the right-handed Thakur. He was merciless, and that inside-out over extra cover, got the crowd cheering for KKR.
The entire crowd went ‘Shardul, Shardul, Shardul’ and never has Eden Gardens had that kind of a ring to it. There was no business for Thakur to be doing this but, that’s the biggest thing, we all end up underestimating his brilliance. And, all he does day in and day out, is prove us wrong.
Prior to this, Thakur had batted 25 times in IPL and averaged 11.31. Five ducks, and a wicket every 8.6 deliveries, you wouldn’t trust him to save your life. Nope. Turning up for Delhi last year, the right-hander was almost a mug with the bat, an average of just 15, and in more games than not, was a big struggle.
Neither has he had an illustrious batting record for Chennai Super Kings (CSK), his previous team. Even for the Men in Yellow, all he could do is average 9.2, with 46 runs. There wasn’t a lot of evidence from his past that he would stitch an innings like this, but KKR’s trust is innate.
There is a long list of players who have been thoroughly backed by the management, and Thakur too is on that one. Thakur’s innings wasn’t classy, and if anything, his innings was for the showreel. But his innings could have ended prematurely when he was on 28 but it is that intent which differentiated the two teams.
It was the 15th over of the innings, KKR’s win percentage was still throttling at 49% but there wasn’t a clear advantage for the hosts.
However, there was Thakur.
Over the next three deliveries that he faced against Michael Bracewell, he smacked the favourable match-up for two sixes, and in return, showed other batters how to take a positive match-up on.
Every shot, every attempt to clear the infield bled of intent. Thakur was on 42 off 15, and KKR 140/5 after 15 overs. The impact is vividly visible, in the span of 15 deliveries, the Mumbaikar changed the complexion of the entire encounter and showed RCB that he was indeed made of a different gravy.
After 15 overs, KKR finally had an upper hand, a win percentage of 56.
When Thakur exited, he not only completed his first T20 half-century but also was the second-highest run-scorer, batting at No.7 or below. There was a known figure at the top – Russell – the same figure against whom a lot of KKR’s hopes were pinned on the night. But amidst the frustration of the KKR fans and the jubilation of the RCB fans, there was a new hero in the town – Thakur.
At the time of Thakur’s dismissal, KKR’s win percentage was 65.
68 runs off 29 deliveries. Three sixes, nine fours, and at least more than a dozen of poses to the camera like he was an action hero. That was Thakur. Whenever KKR needed him, he was there, and whenever he was there, KKR were on top.
It wasn’t a shock when the 31-year-old walked out thrice to collect his share of awards, including the Player of the Match.
Any Shardul Thakur moment can’t end abruptly, and his timely dismissal of Michael Bracewell. Even though RCB’s chances were at an all-time low, at 11.3%, Thakur came in and jolted yet again. The loudest cheer of the night wasn’t for Virat Kohli, it wasn’t for Andre Russell, it wasn’t for Shahrukh Khan but for Thakur, who had wowed the audience with a knock of a lifetime.
Thakur is no longer a hero, he is a cult figure.
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