Tamil Nadu’s batting all-rounder M. Shahrukh Khan, who was picked by Punjab Kings for ₹5.25 crore at the 2021 Indian Premier League (IPL) auction, scored just 88 runs in four innings at this year’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, but it’s the rapid strike-rate of 220 that set him apart.
Shahrukh prefers the tried-and-tested method of “see the ball, hit the ball.” However, he speaks about the importance of aggressive but responsible batting, too. “I have imbibed this mindset from our Tamil Nadu assistant coach R. Prasanna,” he says.
“He (Prasanna) has been a big part of my development as a cricketer. He told me that you need to finish games for us. The TN lower middle order depends on you. He has always backed me and instilled in me the belief that I will come through no matter what. The first year of my first division in Chennai… he was my captain. So, he has seen me at my best and worst; he has seen my game evolve since I was 15.”
Last month, against Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Shahrukh had walked into the middle in the fifth over, with Punjab Kings tottering at 26 for five.
As the last recognised batsman, he had to ensure the team wouldn’t be bowled out and would at least cross 100. He ended up scoring a 36-ball 47 that included four fours and two sixes, missing out on a maiden IPL fifty. But he had given a glimpse of his muscular hitting prowess.
Shahrukh says the fact that Prasanna has reposed faith in his abilities has helped him overcome his inhibitions. “He has always encouraged me to take greater responsibility upon myself and given me the confidence to take the game deep and finish it. It’s not just about hitting sixes; I can hit two back-to-back sixes and get out. That won’t help me or my team. But the longer I stay at the crease, the better are my team’s chances of winning.”
Shahrukh was adjudged the most valuable player at the inaugural edition of the Junior Chennai Super Kings tournament in 2012. After the Tamil Nadu Premier League 2018, he attended a few IPL trials, including at Mumbai Indians, but found no takers at the auction.
However, the 6’4” cricketer finished games for Tamil Nadu in the last white-ball season.
He hit seven sixes in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 and was instrumental in Dinesh Karthik’s men winning their second domestic Twenty20 title. He had earlier made 198 runs in five matches at the Vijay Hazare Trophy, with three fifties at a strike rate of 105.88.
Having finally punched his IPL ticket, Shahrukh describes the experience of playing in his maiden season.
“The great thing about the IPL is that you get to rub shoulders with the biggest names in the game.
“But my biggest takeaway from this season was that the simpler you keep it, the better off you’ll be. It’s still the same game, only the level is different. If you are in two minds whether to play a shot or not, you end up getting out. You’ve to follow your instincts.
“Also, I kept getting insights from [Punjab Kings head coach] Anil (Kumble) sir, Chris Gayle… I spoke a lot with Dawid Malan, Chris Jordan, Nicholas Pooran, Fabian Allen. Jordan, for instance, gave me a bowler’s perspective – he told me what a spinner or fast bowler would do when a hard-hitter like me came to the crease. He said he would never bowl in my arc, will always make me reach out for the ball. Nick, on the other hand, advised me to try and hit straight no matter what. He really thinks that I can hit the ball farther away than I normally do. (Smiles.) He helped me a lot with my off-side game.”
The 2021 IPL season was eventually suspended after an increase in coronavirus cases among players. Shahrukh says he wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“It had to get suspended because the virus had entered the [bio-secure] bubble. The health and safety of the players are more important than anything else.
“The last couple of weeks have been stressful. We all were in touch with our friends and families constantly while inside the bubble. The COVID-19 situation deteriorated drastically as the tournament went on. No one expected such a massive spike in cases.
“And then the overseas players started withdrawing to head home; we knew the situation was getting grim with each passing day. As a player, it’s disappointing, no doubt. But these are unprecedented times. We all understand that.”