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Shahrukh Khan's 'sprint' from big hits to big bucks, via streets of Chennai

The Tamil Nadu finisher was picked by Punjab Kings for INR 5.25 crore at the 2021 IPL auction

Deivarayan Muthu
The master and the protégé: Dinesh Karthik has helped Shahrukh Khan hone his skills  •  Vishal Bhatnagar/Getty Images

The master and the protégé: Dinesh Karthik has helped Shahrukh Khan hone his skills  •  Vishal Bhatnagar/Getty Images

After snapping up a certain Shahrukh Khan for INR 5.25 crore, the Punjab Kings' co-owner Preity Zinta turned to the Kolkata Knight Riders table, where Aryan, the Shah Rukh Khan's son was sitting, and quipped: "We got Shahrukh!"
Zinta then said at a media conference that she has been getting a lot of messages asking who this Shahrukh Khan is.
While you may have been wondering the same, Shahrukh's team-mates always knew that he was going to go big this auction. After stepping out of quarantine to prepare for the forthcoming 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy, Shahrukh and his Tamil Nadu team-mates were following the auction in their team bus in Indore. In the video posted by his captain Dinesh Karthik on Twitter, you can hear a voice in the background: "Bhai, irunga bhai, naalu varaikkum irukku bhai!" (Hang on brother, your bid will go up to 4 crore).
Karthik was also certain that Shahrukh's power, which was central to Tamil Nadu's title victory in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, would attract interest. After the bidding war was over, Shahrukh sheepishly saluted his team-mates who were wildly cheering him on, with M Ashwin, who would be his team-mate at the Kings as well, even banging the top of the bus and screaming at the top of his lungs.
Shahrukh, like Washington Sundar, was a prodigy in the Chennai cricketing circles. He scored runs for fun and some of those have even been read out from the local newspapers as part of the sports round-up at school assemblies.
In 2012, Shahrukh was named the Player of the Junior Super Kings Tournament after making a splash with his batting and offspin for the St Bede's school. Around this time, Shahrukh had also started playing the first-division league in Chennai, and training with strength and conditioning coach Azhariah Prabhakar, who has helped unlock his big-hitting.
"My first meeting with Shahrukh was at an Under-16 camp when I was a trainer for Tamil Nadu," Prabhakar tells ESPNcricinfo. "I can't forget it - ippo kooda solli solli siripom (we even have a laugh about it now). Shahrukh was plumpy and chubby then, and his leg would be caught in the ladder at agility training and he would pull it. Every time I set it right, he would pull it with his leg and make me start again. I used to be so angry and the drill will also stop (laughs). I used to wonder 'why can't this boy do this simple thing.' From that, he has grown into this. To have seen all of that, his journey gives me a proud feeling."
At 6'4", Shahrukh now has a hulking presence in the middle and can hit sixes from the get-go - a trait that attracted the attention of IPL scouts. Shahrukh had also finished games for Tamil Nadu in the last white-ball season, but he found no takers in the auction that followed. Despite a coronavirus-included lockdown in the early half of 2020, Shahrukh bulked up and became even stronger. When the gyms were shut, he sprinted in the streets and worked out at Prabhakar's terrace in Egmore.
"Last January, I had to undergo a finger surgery and needed three months for recovery," Shahrukh recalls. "Then there was a lockdown because of Covid-19, but I was doing a lot of hitting. Say, if I was strong against one particular length in the last season, the opposition won't give me that length this season. So I wanted to improve my hitting against wide yorkers and short balls at my body. Initially during the lockdown, I didn't work on specifics, but once the domestic season was approaching, I worked on improving my bat-swing and range.
"I was sprinting in my street and I was also lifting weights at home. Once the lockdown was relaxed, I went to Azhariah Prabhakar's home in Egmore and began training and it worked well for me. I've definitely become stronger and developed more muscles and I can see the difference when I hit the ball."
Karthik has also taken Shahrukh under his wing, often netting up with him during practice and challenging him to adapt to game-scenarios he might have to deal with in chases.
"He has helped me a lot, right from the time I was given the middle-order role last season," Shahrukh says of Karthik. "He specifically calls me and tells me this is your target and you have to score this many runs in this many balls. He stands behind me in the nets and tells me you need to score 40 runs in 20 balls or like that. He has given me insights on how you can stand deep in the crease and pick areas."
Shahrukh put all of that simulation into use in the Syed Mushtaq Ali quarter-final against Himachal Pradesh in Ahmedabad. Karthik fell with the score at 66 for 5 in a chase of 136, but his protege Shahrukh belted five fours and two sixes during his unbeaten 40 off 19 balls to secure the chase with more than two overs to spare.
"I didn't think about anything at all," Shahrukh says. "There were about seven-eight overs left and I knew if I just bat seven overs, I had the belief that Tamil Nadu will win. I have done enough hitting practice and I have backed myself, but it was a bit surprising that we finished it with two overs to spare.
"I shouldn't clutter my mind because I play that [middle-order] role. I shouldn't complicate things and keep my mind black and let my body and hands move according to the ball. The blanker my mind is, the more productive I am."
R Prasanna, who was Shahrukh's first captain at UFCC (T Nagar) in the first-division league in 2011 and is currently Tamil Nadu's assistant coach, was confident that Shahrukh would have pulled it off even if the asking rate was steeper.
"I remember when Shahrukh first batted at the UFCC nets, there was something special in him that other boys of his age didn't have," Prasanna says. "Honestly, I had the belief that Shahrukh can hit up to 70 runs in the last six overs in that HP match. And more than anything, he has the belief, and his body language sounded confident to me. Since he worked hard during the pre-season for the finisher's role and he visualised such situations, he was well-prepared for this battle."
Shahrukh has been brutal against pace in domestic white-ball cricket as well as the Tamil Nadu Premier League, and Prasanna is now tuning him up to be effective against spin as well by having the likes of M Ashwin bowl regularly to him at the nets.
"Shahrukh's strength is definitely his striking ability against pace and medium pace, and he's among the best in domestic cricket now," Prasanna says. "It's quite evident because he has played from Nos. 1 to 6 - he opens in the TNPL - and he's working on his hitting against spin. There's Murugan Ashwin who bowls a lot to him and Shahrukh is definitely getting better against spin and handling it beautifully. Spinners are in abundance in Tamil Nadu and we are having the spinners bowl at Shahrukh and that training against spin is happening."
Having seen Shahrukh's rise from a happy-go-lucky school-boy cricketer to a versatile middle-order batsman, Prasanna reckons that the price tag will not distract Shahrukh, and hopes that he can break into international cricket, too, in the future.
"He has never thought about this much money or that much money; he has always waited for the opportunity," Prasanna says. "I want him to play white-ball cricket for India. He has the talent to get there."

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo