To define Shardul Thakur’s success as just ‘luck’ is criminal

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04 Jan 2022 | 02:46 PM
authorAakash Sivasubramaniam

To define Shardul Thakur’s success as just ‘luck’ is criminal

When 'Bull' enters the Bull Ring, he ends up with a seven-wicket haul

"Yarra nee, engendhu da pudichanga unna? Nee ball potaale wicket vizhum (Who are you, where did you come from, whenever you bowl, you get a wicket),” uttered Ravichandran Ashwin after Shardul Thakur picked up his fourth wicket on the day. 

It is mere impossible to define Shardul’s aura. Or his bowling. Or his luck. But in between aura, bowling and luck, there is definitely something that he does which ticks off as success. It is his ability to make the batters doubt. 

There is no definite pattern of play when the all-rounder is involved, he gets wickets of deliveries that he no other bowler would but somehow, he makes a living out of it. You can definitely question his consistency but when it is working, even those questions would be futile. So, what makes Thakur stand-out? 

Quite literally, not a lot. What makes him remarkable is his ability to mix things up with the ball. The method to madness isn’t too complicated, it is making the batters doubt either side of the edge. His seven-wicket haul here at Wanderers though, defines his prowess with the ball. 

Until one point in day two, the Mumbaikar had bowled one ball. He batted five deliveries, together, that is one over of action as an all-rounder. But his unique ability to break partnerships is threatening and quite literally unexplainable. 

Thakur and the ‘chanceful’ chance

Thakur doesn’t contain runs and he will not even try, his main focus in the team is to break partnerships, be threatening every over. Yes, he will bowl a wide delivery, dish out a half-volley but the questions that he asks in between often bamboozles the batters. There is definitely a pattern in his bowling and that is he breaks partnerships. 

14 of his 23 wickets have been top-six batters in Test cricket, four being openers, three No.4 batters and so on. But what defines him is that strike-rate, every 32.8th delivery, he strikes, he averages just 18.8 runs/wicket and makes his own luck in the longest format. Even if there is a certain luck factor that goes hand-in-hand, he has drawn 17.2% false-shots. 

He has more wickets since his 'second' Test debut than Stuart Broad, Ishant Sharma, Josh Hazlewood, Neil Wagner, Nathan Lyon and Ravindra Jadeja. He isn’t India’s opening bowler, he isn’t the one from the other end, he isn’t even India’s first-change bowler but he is certainly a game-changing bowler. 

It is during the second, third and the fourth spell where the all-rounder has found more success, with 21 of his 23 Test wickets. Very often in his first spell, Thakur strikes rarely, with only two wickets, striking at 108.5. The strike-rate during his second, third and fourth spell: 36.9, 31.2, 13.8, which signals that he breaks partnership.

A partnership breaker

In his second-debut at the Gabba, coming as the first change bowler, the all-rounder struck to remove Marcus Harris before returning later in the Test, when Tim Paine and Cameron Green were building a rich partnership. He struck immediately, which eventually helped India restrict Australia to 369 in the first innings. 

Yet again in the same Test, Thakur struck thrice, whenever the captain Ajinkya Rahane needed a wicket, showing his ability to turn the tide. 

Against England, in Nottingham, Indian skipper Virat Kohli had tried several ploys against Joe Root but the introduction of Thakur in the 59th over, paid dividends immediately, with the all-rounder striking the very first ball. In the second innings, he first struck to remove Daniel Lawrence, breaking a 34-run partnership before removing the well-set Buttler. 

Breaking partnerships is an art, Shardul has somehow time and again, proved to be the artist. At Centurion, he was at it again, breaking a 72-run partnership before removing Marco Jansen later in the innings. This is what Thakur does at his best, break partnerships out of the blue and a lot has to do with his consistency. 

Where Thakur hits, makes a difference

But to call his entire success as just ‘luck’ is terrible. In fact, there is definitely a large percentage of luck that goes hand in hand but his deceptiveness is quite alarming. What Thakur does is be consistent at the length that he hits (6-8m). Since the start of his Test career, the all-rounder has bowled 71.2 overs in the good length area, where he has accounted for nearly half of his wickets (11). 

Throughout his entire career, 77.7 of the deliveries has been in the Test match length, where he has bowled a combined of 551 deliveries, out of the 755 that he has. 14 of his Test wickets have been when he has targeted the stumps or in the channel, which has given him a leeway into the batter’s mind. His ability to swing the ball late, make it seam around and also get the ball to bounce, makes him an interesting prospect. 

“He is a man who loves responsibility. Not a type of a guy to keep quiet! In his mindset, he is like the 80’s West Indian pacers. He might not have the pace, but he thinks like them” Balaji told Indian Express. 

Yet again, at the Wanderers, he was at it, partnership-breaker, first with the big wicket of Elgar before picking wickets regularly after. He finished with 7/61, the best-ever figure in an innings for India against South Africa. Not just that, he also has the best figures for any Indian bowler, going past Ashwin’s spell of 7/66, all on the back of some determined and consistent line and lengths. 

A common theme across his bowling career has been the lengths that he has hit, with seven wickets at the Wanderers, all pitched at least 5m area as he has pulled back every time he has bowled. In just 107 deliveries, the all-rounder struck seven times, striking every 15.3rd delivery, averaging just 8.7 is astonishing. 

While the entire social media might have been busy with their best ‘Lord’ meme, Shardul silently went about his business like a "bull" riding in the Bullring at the Wanderers.

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South Africa vs IndiaIndia tour of South Africa, 2021/22IndiaShardul Thakur

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