Medium-pacer Shardul Thakur stepped up in the absence of senior fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and recorded his career-best haul of 4/27 that helped India beat Sri Lanka by six wickets in the Nidahas Trophy 2018 tri-series encounter at the R Premadasa Stadium on Monday. The young Mumbai pacer said that regular wickets in the death overs ensured the hosts were restricted to a below-par score on a good batting track.
The 26-year-old redeemed himself after being hit for 27 runs in his first over during the opening game against Sri Lanka as the hosts ended their seven-game losing streak in Twenty20s against India.
"I have told one thing before: I love challenges. I am taking it as a challenge," Thakur said at the post-match conference.
"If other senior bowlers are missing from the team, then I have to step up. I have done this previously for other teams that I have played for. I have come in place of Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni and Ajit Agarkar while playing for Mumbai (in Ranji Trophy). I had to step up in that role. When senior bowlers are rested, I have to step up and fill that role to lead the pace attack," Thakur exuded a lot of confidence.
The 'knuckle ball' (a variation of slower delivery) is being used as a variation by a lot of Indian bowlers currently including pace spearhead Bhuvneshwar Kumar. However, it was Zaheer, who had first started but Thakur insisted that he had learnt it all by his own.
"(Zaheer) did it actually, but I didn't watch much of his videos," Thakur said. "I always knew what the grip was, and then I learned it on my own.
"I have been practising it for a long time. It didn't come easily. Whenever I found time to play with the white ball while playing domestic cricket, I used to try knuckle ball. Probably for two years, I have been practising it now."
Thakur said getting Upul Tharanga (Vijay Shankar dismissed him) and Thisara Perera quickly enabled them to cut down on at least 20 runs.
"The way they (Lanka) were going, they would have scored at least 165 to 170 but we got Upul (Tharanga) out when he was coming hard at us. Thisara then came in and hit a few boundaries. So I think those crucial 2-3 wickets kept coming and we were probably able to cut down the total by 15-20 runs," Thakur said.
The bowler was happy that the bowlers have come back well after getting hit in the opening game.
"In T20 cricket, you need to be ready for surprises. The first game was a surprise and an eye opener for us. I was hit for 27 runs and also some overs went for above 15 runs. I feel the game against Bangladesh and in this game, we came back strongly and executed our plans well."
(With PTI inputs)