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Not just any face in the crowd
Spurred by success that Dhoni has tasted, Jharkhand's Rahul Shukla decided the fastest way to the top was by bowling fast. It helped that he found a mentor in Dravid
Rahul Shukla is a common name, but it isn't one you would have often heard in cricketing circles. In fact, it would come as a surprise if you had heard about him before last week. That's when this stocky youngster from Jharkhand, currently playing for Rajasthan Royals, rocked Kolkata Knight Riders' boat by dismissing their 'Mr Dependable' Jacques Kallis for a duck.
Kallis perhaps would have comfortably negotiated Shaun Tait. However, the South African legend surely did not bargain for this unknown quantity to hurl down a delivery at almost the speed of Tait.
Shukla touched the 146 kmph mark and celebrated as if he had the world in his pocket. And why not? After all, it is not every day that you send back someone like Kallis at the blink of an eye. Shukla said later that he stuck to the plan of bowling at Kallis' body and delivering it fast. He stuck to what he had been told at the team meeting and history is witness that the man considered to be the best all-rounder of his time, was caught off-guard.
"In Rajasthan Royals, we groom talent and Rahul Shukla is one of the players we are focusing on, " skipper Rahul Dravid had said before the tournament. During the practice sessions, the skipper saw enough talent in this unassuming youth to include him in the playing XI for their opening match against Delhi Daredevils. Shukla was nervous;after all, he had so far only dreamt of playing on such a big stage. It was all for real now. This nervousness turned into confidence when he dismissed Mahela Jayawardene. Unknown Shukla, who had caused a few raised eyebrows when the Royals named him in their squad, had arrived. Just like fellow Jharkhand bowler Varun Aaron, who had arrived on the scene with scorching pace a couple seasons ago.
"Rahul and I have bowled together at the U-19 level as well as in the Ranji Trophy, " Aaron says, "He was always good. He has got the right opportunity with Rajasthan Royals and this will be very good for him. " Aaron, currently recuperating from a stress fracture on his back, said. He added that he and Shukla always bowled fast and they complemented each other as bowling partners: "He was always quick and extracted quite a bit of bite from the wicket. "
Dravid has been working on the confidence of this young pacer, telling him that he is good at his job. The veteran, in his gentle way, makes a youngster like Shukla feel at home in the Royals dressing room. Shukla agrees that the presence of Dravid has given him a huge boost. As Royals' little-known wicketkeeper Dishant Yagnik said, Dravid doesn't differentiate between a veteran and a rookie. He treats everyone with equal respect. For a player like Shukla, that is a huge thing and the results are already showing. Earlier Shukla was in the Mumbai Indians ranks in 2010, but had hardly made any impact.
He is still not a regular in the Jharkand side, but last week's show against Bangalore - and hopefully a few more will follow - is sure to earn him some respect in the domestic circuit.
"Our talent spotters were quite impressed with Shukla, " a Royals official says, "As our aim is to give more opportunities to local talent, Shukla fitted the bill perfectly. " Of course, bowling along with the likes of Tait and Sreesanth will help him immensely. He has been picking up tips from these two veterans, and that has further added to his confidence.
Although pace is his forte, ask Shukla and he will tell you that he bowls good yorkers and slower-ones too. In fact, he has been working on these areas, which has given him some additional variety. He would definitely benefit by adding variety to his arsenal. Although he did pick up two crucial wickets against Kolkata Knight Riders, he gave away too many runs. That's the flip side of pace. You are good as long as you are getting your line right. But, stray a little and you'll go for runs. Shukla gave away 28 runs in the three overs that he bowled. Even by T20 standards, that's expensive. Against Delhi Daredevils, he gave away 27 runs in as many overs for his one wicket. His economy rate in the tournament so far is over 9, which can be considered a bit on the higher side. He has worked up good enough pace, now maybe he should start working on keeping the runs in check. And maybe, also work on his fitness to ensure that like Aaron he doesn't pick up injuries early in his career.
Although it has been quite some time since Mahendra Singh Dhoni last played for Jharkhand, the very fact that the India captain is a representative of the state has got many a hopeful dreaming. Shukla too can dare to dream now. For the 22-year old, a good performance in the ongoing T20 tournament could open the doors for better things to come. With the pace slots in the Indian team more like musical chairs, Shukla can fancy his chances.
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