Shardul Thakur (Mumbai Cricket Association)
A ripper of a delivery that Shardul Thakur sent down to Cheteshwar Pujara in the second innings of the Ranji Trophy final in Pune exemplified the mental make-up of the Mumbai fast bowler. Bowling with a ball that was 34 overs old, he ran in, hit the deck and made it lift awkwardly, as Pujara’s riposte — a high left elbow defence with soft hands — only ended up in an easy catch to Akhil Herwadkar at gully. Thakur’s effort (3 for 89 and 5 for 26) along with huge contributory performances from Dhawal Kulkarni (5 for 42 and 2 for 34) and Balwinder Singh Sandhu (1 for 41 and 2 for 21) dealt a body blow to a team in pursuit of its first Ranji Trophy win.
Thakur, 24, epitomises the temperament of a true speed merchant. A bulky person initially, he has trimmed his body by working out in a gym, perhaps following the advice of Sachin Tendulkar. He has also come a long way from being a wayward bowler by putting in the hard yards to adhere to a wicket-to-wicket line. A fast bowler with the ability to use the seam and extract lift off the pitch, Thakur is seen as one capable of giving the shock treatment with both the shining and worn-out ball. It has taken a little over three and a half years for him to hit the headlines, but it is necessary for him to maintain the high standards in order to compete with the rest of his ilk in the national scene.
Thakur has been consistent, taking 27 wickets in 2013-14, 57 in 2014-15 and 41 in 2015-16. Though Krishna Das of Assam has a collection of 50 wickets in 2015-16, based on which he has been selected for the Rest of India squad, the selectors are more likely to look at the progress of bowlers such as Jaydev Unadkat and Thakur.
Career FC figures: 36 matches; 132 wickets at 26.90.
Jaydev Unadkat (Saurashtra Cricket Association)
Why the national selectors and India captains award a Test cap to a budding talent and then drop him like a hot potato straightaway has baffled the followers of the game from time immemorial. As of now, Jaydev Unadkat belongs to the unlucky group of 49 cricketers — of which 30 are bowlers — who have played only one Test match. The Porbandar-born left-arm seamer may be lucky enough though to play in a Test again.
However, the general perception among the cricketing fraternity is that if someone is considered gifted enough to play for India, he should get a fair deal; it did not happen to the young seamer when he made his debut against South Africa at Centurion in the winter of 2010. Unadkat was part of the seam-bowling department that conceded 620 runs to the five South African batsmen (Graeme Smith 62, Alviro Petersen 77, Hashim Amla 140, Jacques Kallis 201 and AB de Villiers 129). In that match, Ishant Sharma finished with 2 for 120, Sreesanth 0 for 97, Harbhajan Singh 2 for 169 and Unadkat 0 for 101.
More than five years later after his Test debut went awry Unadkat has once again given himself a chance to get back into the Indian Test team. He has come through the wringer of the Indian domestic cricket besides the Indian Premier League experience, and if his 40 first class wickets this season is an index of his performance, then he can be said to have passed muster.
When the home association prepares a rank turner for its leading spinner, in this case Ravindra Jadeja, it hurts the new ball operators; and Unadkat was a virtual spectator from the cow corners of the stadium in the first three matches at Khanderi and the Race Course ground in Rajkot. Saurashtra, it can be said, has been notoriously discriminatory, but Unadkat held his own in the remaining matches that Jadeja did not feature in, busy as he was on national duty.
Unadkat showed skill, discipline and made the new ball count, even against Mumbai in the final. He routed Assam on a helpful track at the Reliance Stadium in Baroda. With the Chairman of selectors, Sandeep Patil, being a witness to both his splendid efforts, Unadkat has been rewarded with a place in the Rest of India team for the Zal Irani Cup against Mumbai.
Career FC figures: 49 matches; 152 wickets at 28.63.
Krishna Das (Assam Cricket Association)
Fast bowlers hunt in pairs is an adage in cricket, and Assam’s Krishna Das and Arup Das have brought about this virtue in sui generis manner this season. Though the two can’t be likened to genuine quicks, they played havoc with the opening, middle-order and lower-order batsmen in conditions that aided their natural skill to use the seam. Of the two bowlers from Barpeta, Krishna, 25, was quite astounding, picking up 50 wickets in the Ranji Trophy this season.
Krishna played at Barsapara in Guwahati, Barabati in Cuttack, the Bansi Lal Stadium in Lahli (Haryana), the MCA International Stadium at Gahunje, Sardar Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Valsad (Gujarat) and the Reliance Stadium in Baroda, and without fail he delivered. He literally walks to the bowling crease, and without much body action, bowls at a little over 120 kmph. He maintains the kind of line that would be the envy of many star fast bowlers and cause confusion in the minds of batsmen. That he doesn’t give width and hits the deck in the ‘right area’ prevents the batsmen from cutting loose.
Krishna’s bowling figures this season are: 1 for 22 and 0 for 64 against Karnataka; 5 for 32 and 5 for 23 against Rajasthan; 7 for 21 and 0 for 29 against Odisha; 1 for 12 and 0 for 7 against Vidarbha; 6 for 56 and 4 for 48 against Assam; 4 for 38 and 2 for 32 against Delhi; 6 for 73 and 1 for 42 against Maharashtra; 2 for 94 against Bengal; 3 for 54 and 0 for 72 against Punjab; and 3 for 80 and 0 for 4 against Saurashtra. His admirable performance this season has placed him behind Jharkhand’s left-arm spinner Shabaz Nadeem, who topped the bowling with 51 wickets at 19.62, and ahead of Kerala’s left-arm spinner Karaparambil Satish Monish, who has 49 scalps.
Career FC figures: 31 matches; 116 wickets at 21.06.
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