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Exclusive Interview : Zaheer Khan & Abhishek Nayar have always been helpful Says Shardul Thakur

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(Image Source: Cricket South Africa)

Dream, dream, dream! Dreams transform into thoughts and result in actions. You have to dream before your dream can come true. This is what cricketer Shardul Thakur did and here he is living his passion and dream of playing “cricket”. This Mumbai cricketer considers himself a bowling all-rounder…and further has the knack of picking up wickets for his side and breaking partnerships. He leads the pace attack of team Mumbai in the absence of senior players and came out with flying colors.

He loves taking on any kind of responsibility given to him and considers it as an opportunity to do well. This youngster not only plays for Mumbai and Kings X1 Punjab during the IPL but has also made his presence felt while playing for India A recently. He is the next big talent to watch out for in the cricketing arena. He is a great cricketer who strives hard each day as he would like to play for the country soon. CricFit.com author Binaisha M. Surti met him at the Mumbai Cricket Association where they both had a great and fun conversation.

He spoke to her about various topics, ranging from how determined he was to play the sport, to how his coach Dinesh Lad has made him a better person and finally he went on to speak about his various superstitions and 6 sixes he hit in an over in the Plate Division of the Harris Shield.

© BCCI

Being from a small town in Palghar, how did you manage to convert your dream of becoming a cricketer into reality?

Shardul: For this, first of all, I will give credit to my mother and father because they have been pillars right through my cricketing journey. They have always supported me and given me everything. Even when I would go to school from Palghar to Boisar I would get up at 4:30 in the morning, I would change 3 auto rickshaws to reach that school. When I actually came to Mumbai during my school days I shifted and came to Swami Vivekananda School in Borivali, I would be up by 3:30 in the morning and then come by train.

It was difficult traveling by crowded trains as the kit is so huge to carry. I remember one time while I was traveling, I literary carried the cricket kit on my head… (Smiles). That is what cricket meant to me. I further would attend school till around 1 pm and then would come to Wankhede to attend the under 15 probable’s camp. Later, I would go at 8:30 in the night back to Palghar. This period was the most difficult in my life. I had to do it as there was no other option. I had to play cricket as I dreamt of playing for Mumbai. My parents always kept motivating me throughout this phase. Cricket is a very special game as my uncle and father too played this sport. The sports culture was already there in my family and I too got into cricket.

When did you realize that “cricket” is the game for you out of so many different sports?

Shardul: I fell in love with cricket ever since the first time I watched the game. Cricket is the only sport I ever wanted to play and I always play very religiously. I always dreamt of playing for India since the age of 5. One of the MCA umpires was my uncle’s friend so he would come to meet us there and I heard a lot of stories from him about Ajit Agarkar and Wasim Jaffer. They were really young then and were upcoming cricketers. It was really motivating that these boys are knocking the doors of Indian cricket straight away from Mumbai. It was very fascinating. That is how I took up cricket and it was always cricket and no other sport.

What role has your coach Dinesh Lad played in making you a great cricketer today?

Shardul: I was playing a match Vs Swami Vivekanand School of which he was the coach…that is the time he saw me. I had taken 3 wickets and scored 70 odd runs. He was really impressed by my performance and he wanted me to shift school and come to Swami Vivekanand School immediately. He told my father, that I had a lot of potentials and probably I would go onto playing Ranji Trophy for Mumbai and then play for India…I still remember those words. He has been like a second father to me and I always follow whatever he says. He has a special place in my life…He changed me a lot as a person rather than a cricketer.

He taught me a lot of values like how to remain grounded etc. He has made me a better person and always gave me confidence whenever I was going through a rough patch and not performing well. One thing I admire about him is that he never got angry with me when I performed badly. He instead would sit with me and talk to me about what went wrong. He always tried and kept my game very simple…he backed my talent and kept guiding me.

Further what made you want to become a fast bowler?

Shardul: As I said earlier when the MCA umpire would come to our place he shared a lot of things about Ajit Agarkar and I was really impressed by what I had heard. When I saw him playing he had taken a lot of wickets. From then onwards I wanted to become a fast bowler. He was my first idol. He is a smart cricketer on the field and knew how to make use of the conditions. It was great to see how he backed his talent and performed well. I have learned many things from him. Whatever advice he has given me I always try and implement it in my game. In fact, I even got my Ranji cap from him on debut so that was very special and memorable for me.

(Image Source: Cricket South Africa)

Share with us your initial memories of playing for Mumbai? How difficult was it for you as an outsider to gain a place in the side?

Shardul: I first played for Mumbai in an under 15 tournament…that got me really excited as I was representing Mumbai. I was not a very big performer during the different age groups I played in. Further, my debut Ranji Season was not that great but I had confidence as in the semi-finals I had helped my team win, getting a lot of wickets. I knew that I would come back stronger the next time around. Further, when I came back in the 2nd season, things were completely different for me as I had worked on my fitness. Training in the off season is very important. I suddenly started taking wickets…Yes, further on I did think as to how I would make a cut into the team and how I would match the standards of other boys. As time passed, I gelled in nicely with everyone else as we would spend time together during different camps. When I played Ranji Trophy, the senior players never made me feel that I was a junior. They treated me as their colleague and supported me a lot. These things never made me feel that I was coming from a remote place.

You were a part of the MRF Pace Academy in Chennai and trained under Glenn McGrath? How has that experience been and what is it that he highlighted in the camp?

Shardul: It was a 10-day camp and we practiced for around 7 days. We were taught all about fitness and diet. He shared a lot of his experience like how he would approach his game. He told us that we must always stick to what works for us. We should not try out something new. He advised us to stick to our basics and play our natural game.

Now you are a part of the star Mumbai Team. How was it like to lead the pace attack in the absence of the senior players?

Shardul: It was a big responsibility on my shoulders and I had to deliver. Whenever I take up any type of responsibility my game just flourishes. I do not take any pressure and in fact, take it as an opportunity to do well. I always dream of being at the top of the table and taking wickets. I always look to step up and want to get my team through and win games for my side.

© AFP

You were under the scanner for being a healthy person. How did you overcome this phase by not letting failure and criticism get to you?

Shardul: It really doesn’t matter what people think about me. I was only focussing on what senior players and my coach told me. Our trainers here in MCA have helped me a lot with my fitness. I would give a lot of credit to Abhishek Nayar, as he helped me a lot. He made me join the Attitude Training Studio and would also give me a lot of motivational talks. He has now made me a fitness freak.

As a bowler how do you look to outsmart batsmen?

Shardul: It does take some time as you cannot do it over 3 deliveries. If the batsman is not settled, then he is sure to go out. You have to read the opposition well as to what are their strengths and weaknesses and work accordingly. It may take one spell or more than that. It is important to read his game as to what he is doing on that particular day. If I am high on confidence and I am in a purple patch then wickets will automatically come. When both are at the same level, you have to find faults in his game. It is not easy but with experience and practice, you get things right.

When batsmen dominate on the field how do you look to stay cool, calm and composed under pressure?

Shardul: I feel that there is no point in getting excited. I should stay calm, composed and really think what would my next delivery be like. What has happened is history and you cannot get it back. It is important to think forward rather than thinking of what has happened in the past.

Do you too have any superstitions before a game or in general?

Shardul: (Laughs) my superstitions keep changing all the time…Currently, since last 4 games in Mumbai, I have been having dinner in one particular restaurant before bowling the next day. In the away games I always sit on the right side in the bus near a window. (Laughs even more)  A couple of years back I would have cheese omelet in the morning every day before the game.

Who are the best fast bowlers that you have admired over the years?

Shardul: Ajit Agarkar, Dale Steyn, Dhawal Kulkarni, Zaheer Khan, James Anderson, Ryan Harris, Mitchel Johnson and Christopher Martin as I followed him a lot.

You entered the record books by slamming 6 sixes in an over in the Plate Division of the Harris Shield in 2006. Share with us some pleasant memories of that game?

Shardul: A game before that I had got hit on my lip. I clearly remember that Siddhesh was bowling and he told me to stand at short leg. After a while, he asked me to wear a helmet and not stand without any protection. At that time, there was only one more ball to be bowled so I did not bother to wear one. He bowled a short ball, the batsman played his shot and he smacked it so hard that it came straight and hit me in a split of a second. My lip was swollen very badly and I played the final with that.

We played the final after 3 days. We bowled first and got the opposition all out for around 130 runs and I got 6 wickets in that game. We were batting pretty well and then suddenly we were 160/5. I was batting with Siddhesh in the middle. We had a chat and decided that we should bat through or otherwise the game could heed anyway. Suddenly after scoring around 40 odd runs, he got out. Harmeet then joined me and we looked to take things further. I don’t know what happened to me at that point in time…I just started hitting everything that came my way. I just went with the flow. I went on to score a 160 in only 72 balls. We finally went on to win that game. Further speaking about the spin bowler who bowled to me in that over…I later came to know that he started bowling fast then and gave up on spin… (Laughs)

You have always spoken very highly about Zaheer Khan. So how has Zak helped you develop yourself as a better bowler?

Shardul:  After my debut season when I came back to play my second season, I did not play the first 3 games as I was injured. He was playing that season. I was really low on confidence and there was a lot of confusion in my mind as to how this season would turn out for me. Further when I went on to play…I bowled my first delivery and it was fine. Zaheer Khan was next to me and he was continuously giving me a lot of confidence. He told me to bowl in these areas and the batsman would get out.

Zaheer was advising me a lot as to how I should bowl to a left hander and right hander on that particular wicket. He told me how to bowl, what lengths I should bowl in different sessions etc. These are the factors that helped me a lot in my bowling.

You have played a lot of domestic cricket till now. Which has been your most memorable season so far?

Shardul: The 2014-15 season has been very memorable for me. I was the highest wicket taker and more importantly, I was winning games for my team. But the 2012-13 season is the closest to my heart as it was my debut season and further, we won the cup that season. That season changed my life completely.

How have you association been with the Kings X1 Punjab in IPL?

Shardul: I have not got many opportunities…but in those 2 years I have seen a lot of games closely. At the back of my mind, I always keep thinking as to how I will approach my next game if and when I get a chance. Sitting out too I got to learn a lot.

What is Preity Zinta like?

Shardul: She is a fun loving and happy go lucky person who gets really excited about cricket.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now in the cricketing arena?

Shardul: I see myself playing for India, not only just being there but performing consistently and helping my country win games. I visualize all these things as I see myself there.

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