Shardul Thakur has now been in England for over six weeks. He was part of India 'A' team that won the limited-overs' tri-series, he made it to the Indian One-Day team, and is now set to tease the Test batsmen in with the brand new Duke ball. Perhaps no other fast bowler has bowled as many deliveries as him on the English soil since the start of June. But despite all the workload, when it comes to selection of fast bowlers, he will be the last cab off the rank.
For the last three seasons in first-class cricket, no fast bowler has bowled as many deliverers as Thakur. He is the ultimate professional and bowling long spells do not faze him.
The challenge for Thakur is that despite his massive engine room, he will need something extraordinary to happen to play a Test in England because the likes of Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Mohammad Shami and Jasprit Bumrah are considered a level above him. All four of them have the experience of playing Test cricket, with Ishant event starring in India's last Test win on English soil.
One aspect running in Thakur's favour is that the compressed schedule and the injury to Bhuvneshwar Kumar means he is in with a real chance to be considered for a Test debut in this six-week series. So, if he can continue to churn out the overs in the nets and persist on improving his skills, there is every chance he could be donning the blue cap. Importantly, he needs to be ready. It might be the only chance he gets.
Speak to the experts behind the scenes and they will advise you that Thakur is a fast learner and always tries to develop his skills. Up until three years ago, he could never shape the ball away from right-handers, but he rectified his action and wrist position and started taking wickets in a heap. There is no doubt that over the past six weeks, Thakur would have been working on bowling with the Duke ball and if he gets his chance, he is more than capable of having a productive series.
For a while now, Thakur has only got an opportunity in the white-ball cricket, but his style of bowling is perhaps more suited to the longer format. He has a beautiful outswinger and a sharp bouncer, he can bowl upto 140km/h, and he has the ability to reverse the old ball. Perhaps his greatest asset is that he can bowl long spells and he is always eager to bowl, irrespective of the situation.
Thakur is also an intelligent bowler who is capable of working over a batsman over time. He likes to test them with all his weapons and loves to find their weaknesses. It is a trait that seems to be lacking in most Indian fast bowlers. If the pitches in the upcoming series tend to be on the flatter side, India will need a toiler and a workaholic. On the downside, Thakur probably lacks in execution and has the tendency to try far too many variations. The easy offering on the pads is still seen far too often and his line tends to be more on the line of the stumps rather than outside.
All his wickets that he has accumulated for Mumbai in the Ranji trophy, India 'A' tours and even in the ODIs will mean little if he cannot stand on the big stage. It is a difficult tour for Thakur, but he has to keep imposing himself in the nets or during training in any form or manner. His focus, attitude and mindset over the course of next six weeks may well define his career.
Four years ago, another domestic toiler in Pankaj Singh came to England, and was handed a debut due to an injury to Ishant Sharma in the third Test, but failed to produce the results expected of him. He was never picked for India again. Similarly, Thakur might only get one chance to prove that he belongs to Test cricket, and he has to grab it at all costs and show he has enough to raise his game. The weeks spent in England before the Test series could well work in his favour.