If you were in Chennai growing up in the 2000s, you might be familiar with a certain Shahrukh Khan, whose name cropped up quite regularly in the sports pages of the local newspapers. Shahrukh Khan? Sports pages, what? No, we're not talking about the Kolkata Knight Riders co-owner, but Tamil Nadu's batting allrounder M Shahrukh Khan, who had set age-group cricket in Chennai on fire and was later named MVP of the inaugural edition of the Junior Chennai Super Kings tournament in 2012.
Fun fact #1: his mother's cousins, big fans of the film star, forced his parents to name him after the actor. And he sheepishly admits that his name has invited some nasty sledges, particularly during age-group cricket.
Fun fact #2: It's not everyone who can say their Whatsapp display picture features Shahrukh and Rajinikanth - but his does. He is a massive fan of thalaivar.
He is now Tamil Nadu's finisher in the ongoing 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, where they have set the early pace with six wins in six games. He was initially slated to play just a cameo - included as cover for M Vijay, who was away with Somerset in county cricket - but has now turned it into a starring role, especially after scores of 48* and 69* against Rajasthan and Bengal on seam-friendly tracks in Jaipur.
Vijay is back, as is Washington Sundar, who had picked up a niggle during the third T20I against South Africa in Bengaluru, but Shahrukh seems to have nailed down his spot in the side.
After hitting an unbeaten 48 off 39 balls in a century partnership with Dinesh Karthik against a Deepak Chahar-led Rajasthan attack, Shahrukh teamed up with his captain again, against Bengal, this time in a bigger stand, which came at a more rapid rate. Shahrukh joined Karthik when Tamil Nadu were tottering at 123 for 5, but they thumped 153 off 75 balls to turn the tables on Bengal.
"There was some swing and seam early on in Jaipur and Bengal had a good attack with Ishan Porel and Ashok Dinda," Shahrukh told ESPNcricinfo. "We lost four [five] early wickets, but our target was to build the innings, take it to the 40th over, and then go after the bowlers. Batting with Dinesh Karthik you feel no pressure at all. With Dinesh at the other end, I know he will find the boundaries and will take the pressure off me. Plus as a captain he's always there to guide me."
It was Karthik who had handed Shahrukh his maiden Ranji cap in December last year. Shahrukh had entered at No. 7 after a similar top-order collapse on an atypical Chepauk pitch that was providing appreciable seam movement to Kerala's Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi.
However, Shahrukh played some audacious front-foot drives and back-foot pulls - largely in the company of the tail - to prop up Tamil Nadu from 81 for 5 to 268. He ran out of partners, but his unbeaten 92 off 155 balls was central to Tamil Nadu snatching a 116-run first-innings lead and eventually victory.
"Actually, I came to know that was going to make my debut only on the morning of the match," Shahrukh recalled. "I was initially nervous for the first three-four balls, but settled in and just didn't think about anything. I was in a good frame of mind and just played my shots like I normally do. That innings against a good Kerala attack gave me a sense of belonging. It told me that I belong to the Ranji level."
The success was sweeter for Shahrukh, considering he had to wait for a long time to break into top-fight cricket. By the time he turned 13, he was playing league cricket, rubbing shoulders with the big boys, and even had former state captain and selector S Sharath earmarking him as an exciting talent. After winning the Junior Chennai Super Kings tournament, Shahrukh sparkled both with the bat and the ball in the Cooch Behar Trophy in the lead-up to the 2014 Under-19 World Cup in the UAE.
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Having racked up 624 runs in eight innings and taken 18 wickets, Shahrukh was eagerly awaiting a call-up to the India Under-19 squad for the World Cup. However, it never came and the snub "shocked" Shahrukh.
"That phase really affected me; not getting picked was a shock for me," Shahrukh said. "It was a World Cup year, and I was in good form. I think the Under-19 team was on the lookout for a batting allrounder and coincidentally I was scoring runs and taking wickets. I expected to play, but I was shocked to see I did not get the call."
Shahrukh's father Masood and younger brother Akram, who have both played league cricket in Chennai, and his personal trainer Azhariah Prabhakar, who has worked with Tamil Nadu and Assam in the past, helped him break out of the funk and regain his focus.
"I then understood such things happen. If you know batting, you have to keep working on it. If you know bowling, you have to keep working on it. You have to come out of setbacks, it was tough, but the support from my family and trainer was great. They have always backed me throughout my career. I share everything with Azhariah Prabhakar. More than a trainer, he is like a father to me who understands me and keeps motivating me. Naanga appadiye set aaitom (We have gelled well) and I don't see myself training with anybody else."
"I was in good form. I think the Under-19 team was on the look out for a batting allrounder and I was scoring runs and taking wickets. I expected to play, but I was shocked to see I did not get the call."Shahrukh Khan on missing out for the 2014 U-19 World Cup
In 2014-15, Shahrukh made it to Tamil Nadu's Ranji squad, but it wasn't until 2018 that he made his debut. During his time on the sidelines, Shahrukh's mind was still scrambled with negative thoughts.
"I had a lot of doubts and didn't know what to do," he said. "Because I kept scoring runs in age-group cricket, but then did well in TNPL (Tamil Nadu Premier League) and people started noticing me. I used to wonder where I could get a chance to bat in this strong TN side and then the innings against Kerala helped me figure out that I will get a chance in the lower-middle order only."
Shahrukh has overcome all those doubts and has now fitted into a vibrant Tamil Nadu team that is gunning for its sixth 50-over domestic title.
"I'm not thinking too much and looking too much into the future," Shahrukh said. "This team is like a family and we had a good pre-season camp in Tirupur. We have mingled nicely together as a group. Four-five years back, we had a camp at Wayanad and reached the Ranji final that season. It's always good to go out of the comfort zone in Chennai and prepare. We have gelled well as a group and hope to keep the momentum going."
After TNPL 2018, where Shahrukh was among the top six-hitters, he attended a couple of IPL trials, including at Mumbai Indians, but found no takers at the auction. Now, if he keeps finishing games in this Vijay Hazare Trophy and in the upcoming 20-over Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, how about Knight Riders, owned by Shahrukh Khan, buying Shahrukh Khan in the IPL 2020 auction in December? That would be something.
Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo