Dinesh Lad perhaps had the best Teachers Day week among all the educators in India. The renowned cricket coach from Mumbai spent his week watching two of his oldest students, Rohit Sharma and Shardul Thakur, guide India to a historic Test win at The Oval in south London.
Rohit’s maiden overseas Test ton, Thakur’s twin fifties – 36-ball 57 and 72-ball 60 – and three crucial wickets swung the Test in India’s favour as it beat England by 157 runs.
Thakur walked into the Indian team as a seam bowler who could bat a bit. After his bat did the talking in two overseas Test wins, in Australia and England, the 29-year-old perfectly fits the bill of an all-rounder.
The boy from Palghar — a district in Maharashtra about 80 kilometres from the suburbs in Mumbai — is Lad’s discovery. And the man spotted Thakur’s talent in a school match, where he scored 78 runs and picked up five wickets more than a decade ago. Later, he also smashed six sixes in a game which fast-tracked him into the Mumbai U-15 side. There were tags like Palghar Express as he was the fastest bowler in his age group, but the bat was omnipresent.
“He was always a good batsman. But he was more of a bowler-batsman. Earlier, he wanted to hit every ball. The best part is that he improved on his temperament, and that’s why he could play the deliveries well. His bat speed is going well with the ball,” Lad tells Sportstar.
Lad and Thakur go back a long way.
Back in the day, Thakur stayed at Lad’s residence in Borivali for a year to hone his cricketing skills. It cut down on his travel time from Palghar as well.
The coach and the student have been in touch over the telephone throughout the series in England. Lad did not like the way he got out lbw to Chris Woakes in the first innings. “I told him why was he throwing his wicket away while batting well? He had this tendency earlier also when playing the ODIs and the Indian Premier League.
“He told me he got into a double mind, whether to take a single or go for a shot. He said he would score a hundred for me next time, but unfortunately, he got out on 60, which was an important knock to stretch the lead,” says Lad, who had advised Thakur to play straight before the tour of Australia.
Thakur was flown to Australia as the net bowler but he got a chance to feature in the Gabba Test. He scored 67 and returned with a match haul of seven wickets. “Since he was not playing initially in the tour, he got a lot of time at the nets, and he used that to his advantage by batting more. He did some extra throwdowns. Now, his straight drives, cover drives and hook shots are coming out well,” says Lad, who feels Thakur deserved the player of the match award.
Rohit walked away with the reward for his patient 127. “I am either way happy as both [Rohit and Shardul] have been my students, but Shardul’s half-century in the first innings helped India to 191. And he picked the crucial wickets of Ollie Pope, Rory Burns and Joe Root. The one that got Burns was an unplayable delivery.”
Shardul Thakur’s all-round contribution was pivotal to India’s 157-run win in the fourth Test at the Oval. – GETTY IMAGES
Hunger to excel
Thakur studied at Rizvi College, which is a hotbed for cricketers in Mumbai. His college coach, Bhimesh Shah, remembers him as the player who always had the hunger to do something special. “He always had the dedication, be it long travelling or training. He was sincere in all departments of the game. He wanted to be on the ground and do something that would stand out. He took fielding seriously too, and not only bowling and batting,” he says.
Thakur was an attacking batsman from the start. “It was his style. He always batted with a lot of freedom. He was focused on the power game earlier as he was very strong. I encouraged him to bat more at the nets so that he finds a direction. I never wanted to change his game plan,” says Shah.
In the past few years, Thakur shed the excess bulk to prevent injuries as a fast bowler, and the fitness transformation reflects in his batting. “He became aware of weight management and other things once he started going higher in his cricketing journey.”
Thakur made his ODI debut wearing the No. 10 jersey, which belonged to the iconic Sachin Tendulkar, and today, he earned the nickname ‘Lord’ for his cricketing exploits. He is expected to rise and shine in the coming years.
Shardul Thakur in Tests
Matches: 4 Wickets: 14 Best Bowling: 4/61
Runs: 190 50s: 3 Highest score: 67