Shardul Thakur returned to the Mumbai Ranji Trophy squad and made an instant impact.
Spearheading the Mumbai pace bowling attack against Assam, Shardul claimed five wickets in the game so far - two in the first innings and another three in the second - as 14 wickets fell on the third day, putting Assam on the brink of defeat.
Shardul, however, was surprised to see Assam lose five wickets in the second innings after being enforced a follow-on.
“The pitch was really flat. We had to work for all the wickets we got. I am a bit surprised that we could get five wickets after asking them to follow-on. Honestly, I did not think that they would lose five wickets,” Shardul told Sportstar on Thursday.
“A wicket or two here and there and we would have been happy, but to have five wickets at the end of the day, is pretty good for the team…”
Shardul Thakur was added to the Mumbai squad for two games - against Assam and Delhi - as he was not part of the Indian team in the ongoing three-match ODI series against Sri Lanka.
Back with the Mumbai side for a first-class game after a while, Shardul is elated.
“Whenever I am in this dressing room, I feel safe, all my team-mates are like my brothers, and we play like a unit.”
Assam still needed 281 on the final day to avoid an innings defeat. But, with Thakur and Mohit Avasthi breathing fire, the home side would need a miracle to deny Mumbai an outright win.
Starting the day at 129 for one, the Assam middle-order showed intent in the early stages. Expectations were high when they walked out to bat again in the second innings, but it was complete mayhem.
Earlier in the day, Mumbai decided to bowl short-pitched deliveries. Shardul came up with a few bouncers, challenging the Assam middle-order, and that strategy worked.
“When the day started, we were trying to assess the conditions and see if it was the same or had changed a little. But it remained the same as we played on day one or day two. There were not a lot of purchases if you bowled up on good length, so you had to come up with a different kind of strategy - whether to hit on their pads or bowl a few bouncers,” Shardul said.
“We tried bowling bouncers for a few overs, and they lost one or two wickets there, so we stuck to that plan and tried to get them out on the short ball. We used that strategy wisely, and that allowed our spinners to attack and pick up wickets…”
That set the stage for Shams Mulani, arguably Mumbai’s most successful spinner in the season so far, to claim four wickets in the first essay. But Shardul revealed that the plan to bowl bouncers and short-pitched deliveries was taken spontaneously as every team member felt that it would be effective.
“It was a spontaneous decision, and we did not think too much about it. A lot of times, you have to change your plans when you are on the ground. You assess the situations, and it just came to our mind, and everyone was on the same page that ‘okay, let’s go with the short ball strategy’…”
With the knockouts race intensifying, an outright win is a must for Mumbai to stay in the hunt before travelling to Delhi for the next away game. But Shardul does not want to think too far ahead.
“Target for me is simple: to pick as many wickets as possible for our team. I always try to put my team in a winning situation and have that impact on the game. We are right now thinking about this innings, and going forward. We know the next game is in Delhi, but no one’s talking about it. We are mostly thinking about tomorrow…”
Mumbai needs five wickets on Friday to pocket six points, as Assam is reeling at 36 for five. A victory looks well within reach, but Mumbai wants to be cautious and take it session by session.