THE flight from Brisbane to Dubai to Mumbai suddenly seemed longer for Shardul Thakur. Pride in winning the Test series in Australia jostled with desperation to finally go home. It had been five months since he’d seen his parents, the longest he had been away from home.
Cricket during Covid-19 had thrown a new challenge at cricketers. Reaching home at Palghar, Thakur spoke to about his crucial 67 runs in the first innings at Gabba, and the 7-wkt match haul. EXCERPTS:
Has the win sunk in?
No, we are still on a high. It’s a big victory for us. Everyone is talking about it from the stadium to the airport, till I reached home, I was only hearing praises. Beating Australia and winning a game at Gabba was so special. It was a young team and everyone put their hands up and delivered. Be it bowling or batting, somebody stood up, it was a collective effort.
Did it ever cross your mind that the last Test could be slipping away from the team?
Never. We all went for a win. As the game got closer and closer we knew we would pull it off. I think the only time we all had a doubt was in the first innings when we had lost six wickets for some 180 runs. When I and Washington Sundar batted and crossed the 300 run-mark, we both saw the scoreboard and felt the lead was not that big. We can pull this game off in second innings if we get them out sooner.
When you walked out to bat what was running through your mind?
Our batting coach Vikram Rathour came and said play the ball as per merit, don’t play any silly shot. I told Sundar that let’s hang around because their bowlers were getting tired. Australia hadn’t given rest to any of their seamers in the entire Test series, it was the same bowling attack playing and we could sense that they were getting tired. The more they got tired the easier it would get. And it happened, their bowlers did get tired. We had to just apply our mind and back our instincts.
You looked in total control in your batting?
I told myself that if I can hang around for two hours, I have all the shots to play. I always enjoy playing fast bowlers, I have never been scared of speed. Am not scared to face even 145 kmph plus. Maybe it’s because of how my cricketing career started. We have a ground in my village where my first few years of cricket were played on matting wickets. The pitch in Palghar had uneven bounce, so handling bounce came naturally to me. At the same time I faced throwdown specialists regularly in the Indian team nets, so am used to playing pace.
Being a tailender, you looked so comfortable in your batting?
Since school days I used to play as an all-rounder. I always enjoyed batting and I always want to showcase my talent with the bat. I might bat lower down the order but my mind works like a batsman.
Did you know you will play the fourth Test?
There was confusion due to a lot of injuries in the team. I was told to be prepared but it was on the day of the game before the toss I was told that I will be playing.
How tough is life in a bubble?
It’s very tough. Everyone can’t get their family on the foreign tour. I left home on August 19 for IPL and from there we went to Australia. It was one of the longest tours and due to the bio bubble we can’t go out. We were totally disconnected with the outside world. The only source of information was social media. Many hotels didn’t have a balcony, so we didn’t get fresh air for days. Staying in a hotel was a challenge but at the same time we were lucky to play cricket in times of Covid.
Didn’t you get frustrated, wasn’t the waiting game taking a toll on your mind?
I did, tell me who wants to sit out but at the end of the day only 11 can play. I have sat out before for two series and waited too. I’m human and I do get demotivated. I look out for my motivation. Be it carrying drinks or cheering, I kept busy in these activities.
You had a terrible Test debut in 2018 which lasted ten balls? Did it ever cross your mind?
For me it was ab agla mauka kab aayega?That wait between two Tests has changed me as a person. There were two options, either I crib and say, yaar yeh agla mauka kab aayega or just go there and keep working. Keep working was the only option. My father is a farmer and all our life we are taught to keep trying. Keep working hard, keep pushing. Agar ek saal kheti kharaab ho jayega iska matlab yeh nahi ke next time I won’t do farming. Same is in cricket, I will again try.
Did you speak to anyone during this long gap between two games?
I spoke to Ravi bhai (Shastri) one day. I asked him that sometimes I get only one game per series, I always feel pressure on me when I play. What should I do? He replied, if you see this opportunity as pressure, then I will certainly feel pressure in my game. But if you feel that you want to win, then except the game pressure, there won’t be any add-on pressure.
You must be pleased with your bowling? Took seven wickets in a game?
I was a bit nervous in the first innings because I was playing a Test match after a gap of two years. My first Test match lasted for ten balls, it was the second Test match but it was as good as the debut game. In the last three years, I haven’t played many first class games. I was more concerned about my rhythm but with wickets coming, I gained some confidence. In the second innings I said if I can get wickets in first, why not in second. I was high on confidence.
Did you get carried away while bowling to Cummins, you kept bowling him bouncers?
We knew in the second innings that their lower order would try getting quick runs. The boundaries are big, so it was a plan that if Cummins goes to pull, there is a chance for a catch.
How did the dressing room react to your batting, Ashwin compared your strokes to Viv Richards?
He said jokingly, he came and said that after a long time he saw a bowler, hitting such a great cover drive. He appreciated it, many knew I could bat, so it was not surprising.
How did you counter sledging?
They did, but I didn’t listen to them. They wanted to disturb my concentration but I just ignored them. The only time I couldn’t understand Australia players was when they passed a humorous comment, it’s hard to pick whether it was just a comment, or sarcasm.
What did you miss most most in five months? How did your family react?
I missed my family, my home cooked food, my bed. When I came today my mother said ki kitna patlaa ho gaya hai tu. Khane ko nahi milta tha kya? It’s a line which any mother says. The day the series ended, I was just hoping that I will reach home soon. Suddenly the flight seemed very long, the drive home took very long too. I just wanted to reach home ASAP.
What has been more tough for you, getting a seat on the crowded Dahanu shuttle, or facing Australia attack?
Getting a seat in a train, it required skill and timing. Facing fast bowlers is much easier.