Shahrukh Khan: In T20s now, you play the man as much as the ball

In this interview, Tamil Nadu power-hitter Shahrukh Khan talks about the thinking that defines his batting in T20s.

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Shahrukh Khan...“Power game for me is as much about the brain as it is about brawn.”

Tamil Nadu batter Shahrukh Khan has made a splash in domestic cricket in the past two seasons with his fire-and-ice finishing knocks. Be it a last-ball six to win the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final against Karnataka or anchoring dwindling innings in the IPL, Shahrukh has shown himself to be a batter adept at dealing with a variety of situations and tailoring his game to the team’s cause.

After being ignored at the 2020 IPL auction, the 26-year-old from Chennai was signed by the Punjab Kings for ₹5.25 crore in the 2021 auction. He played 11 matches in the following edition and averaged 21.85 at a strike-rate of 134.21. He got his side over the line in a close chase against Kolkata Knight Riders with an unbeaten 22 off just nine deliveries. Against Chennai Super Kings, he displayed another side to his game, when he helped Punjab Kings to 106 for 8 from 26 for 5 with 47 off 36.

Shahrukh has put his base price at ₹20 lakh for the 2022 mega IPL auction. In this interview with

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Sportstar , Shahrukh talks about the thinking that defines his batting in the T20s.
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Q. You have finished games for Tamil Nadu almost single-handedly in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s (SMAT). How much of it is down to being in the zone and how much of it is planning and execution?

A. It is because of the way I have practised in the past and the role that was assigned to me by Tamil Nadu when they needed a finisher. I have grown into that role. It’s not easy because it doesn’t come naturally. I feel you’ve to work on it a lot more than any other batting position. That is what I did before games - learning how to pace the inning and take it deep.

What do you set out to do in a nets session?

It boils down to the basics, watching the ball till the end. I practise six-hitting but not in between matches because I’ve already done it before the start of the tournament. I feel that’s enough for me to keep going on for the season. In the nets, I try to rotate as much strike as possible ... If I am in a situation where the team is four or five down for not many on the board, I need to be able to rotate strike more than going after the bowlers.

T20 batting is one-dimensional in the sense that you have got to hit consistently. Can it get overwhelming at times when you play out dot balls?

Not at all. It’s just a matter of one good hit. The dots don’t bother me much. But the mindset does. When I go in to bat and if I am unable to rotate strike because of my mindset, then there’s a problem. If I feel I’m not looking for the ones and twos when the big hits have dried up, then it’s a concern. Just accepting that I’m the designated finisher has given me clarity and stability. I know if I win matches, people will praise me, and if I don’t score runs, I will probably be blamed for losses. Making peace with this reality has enhanced my game.

How do you know you are in? Is it a certain shot that you can play?

Running hard between the wickets is something that takes me in the zone. When I punch the ball to long-off or deep extra cover, I try to run out all the pent-up energy.

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How do you define risk in the context of a game?

The game is built on risks. Teams are scoring 350 consistently in one-dayers. Only if you take risks at different stages of the game can you chase down such big totals... In white-ball cricket, the risk doesn’t matter to me. I would define risk as playing a big shot - which is otherwise your strength - when your team is struggling. Back your strength in a calculated manner. That said, when you need 50 off, say, five overs, there’s no one to question you. You’ve to go hard, you’ve to take risks.

Can you describe where you derive your power from?

I am tall and well-built and that’s the X-factor I have. According to me, if you have the confidence that the ball will go over the ropes from a mishit, then the odds are it will but if you don’t, then chances are you are going to get caught off a good stroke. The power game for me is as much about the brain as it is about brawn.

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Shahrukh Khan was signed by the Punjab Kings for Rs 5.25 crore in the 2021 auction.
 

There was a lot of talk about where you should really come in the batting order at Punjab. There was this feeling that you were coming in too late. Where are you most comfortable coming in to bat in T20s?

If the team requires me to bat higher up the order, I will do that. Yes, of late, I have been batting at No. 6 for Tamil Nadu but I am flexible as far as batting positions are concerned.

What’s been your most satisfying T20 innings so far?

One of my most favourite T20 knocks is the 19-ball 40 against Himachal Pradesh in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy quarterfinal last season. Then the 15-ball 33 vs Karnataka in the SMAT final last November. These two knocks were special.

They say “play the ball, not the man.” Do you think as the T20 format evolves more, power-hitters will start playing the man, too?

T20 format is getting to a stage where you play the man as much as the ball. I’ve done that, picked up cues from the guys I’m batting against - their body language, the go-to deliveries when they are under pressure. It all depends on the energy you keep at the crease. A bowler needs to see that... he needs to know if he misses, the ball is going to go out of the ground. The panic that builds up in the mind and body [of the bowler] sometimes helps the batter. Even if you don’t hit the ball for a six, just the hard swing of the bat will put the bowler under pressure.

What are your expectations from this year’s IPL auction?

I have no pressure, no expectation from the IPL auction. I’m trying to shut out the outside noise as much as possible. Although I won’t lie... it is there at the back of my mind but I’m completely focussed on my training.