Match Analysis

'Best in the world' Shashank Singh defies odds in Kings' come-from-behind win

With a blazing half-century in Ahmedabad, he shows Kings had picked the right man at the auction

Ashish Pant
"I am the best in the world when I go to bat. I don't see the bowler; I just see the ball and react to it."
When Shashank Singh walked out to bat in his ninth IPL innings, Punjab Kings were 70 for 4 in the ninth over of their chase of 200 against Gujarat Titans. The required rate had rocketed to 11.47 and, according to the ESPNcricinfo forecaster, their win probability had plummeted to 4.77%.
So, he had no option but to go for it. He had to take down the likes of Rashid Khan, Noor Ahmad and Mohit Sharma. He had to believe he was the "best in the world". He did and by the end of it all, his unbeaten 29-ball 61 took Kings to an unlikely three-wicket win in Ahmedabad.
Shashank will undoubtedly grab the headlines after handing Kings their second win of the season and their first on the road. But approximately three-and-a-half months ago, he had become the talking point for a different reason altogether. A reason beyond his control.
On December 19, 2023, Punjab Kings successfully bid for a "Shashank Singh" during the accelerated round at the auction. Hammer down, bid sealed. Minutes later the team owners seemed to suggest to the auctioneer Mallika Sagar that this wasn't the player they were looking for. But Sagar had moved to the next player by then, so the bid stayed.
Kings later put down the confusion to a case of mistaken identity clarifying that the onboarded player was always on their targeted list. Shashank also put a statement on his social media account saying, "It's All Cool … Thank you for trusting on me!!!!" But the "accidental signing" memes had already made their way to the internet.
Shashank's journey, though, has been anything but accidental. From Mumbai to Puducherry to Chhattisgarh in domestic cricket, and from then-Delhi Daredevils to Rajasthan Royals to Sunrisers Hyderabad to Kings in the IPL, the 32-year-old's tale is one of toil and trying to make a mark at the highest level.
Shashank, a top-order batter and offspinner, played age-group cricket in Mumbai and made his Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy debut for them in 2015. But after playing 15 T20s and three List A games across four seasons for Mumbai, and frustrated at being in and out of the team, he moved to Chhattisgarh, the state of his birth. He also played one List A game for Puducherry in the 2018-19 season.
But Chhattisgarh is where Shashank got more opportunities. He made his first-class debut in 2019-20 and played an important role in the following season when Chhattisgarh beat Mumbai for the first time in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. In 2023, Shashank became the first Indian, and third overall after Alvin Kallicharran and Mike Procter, to score 150-plus runs and take five wickets in the same List A game, achieving the feat against Manipur.
Shashank has been around with IPL teams since 2017 but it took him five years to make his debut. He was first picked by the Delhi franchise in the IPL 2017 auction. For IPL 2019 and 2020, he was with Royals. Having been overlooked at 2021 auction, Shashank finally made his debut in IPL 2022 after being picked by SRH, and in his first innings hammered an unbeaten six-ball 25 against Titans, which included three back-to-back sixes off Lockie Ferguson. But he couldn't do much for the rest of the season and was released by the franchise after the IPL ended.
Shashank had failed to find a team in 2023, so he had a point to prove this year. He was up against a familiar foe, but the circumstances were different. Then, he had come in with 12 balls left in the innings, trying to give his side that late push. Here, he had 68 balls and a mountain of an asking rate in front of him.
On the second ball of his innings on Thursday, he was beaten by a Noor wrong'un and was smacked on the pads. Titans went for a review, but replays showed the ball going over the stumps. Enough prodding, he said. The next delivery, another wrong'un, he jumped out of his crease and smoked it over long-off.
Shashank next took down Umesh Yadav, with a sequence of 4, 6, 4. He picked Mohit's back-of-the-hand cutters and Noor's googly. Even Rashid wasn't spared. What set Shashank apart was his fast hands and how quickly he was picking the lengths. In no time, he had raced to his maiden IPL fifty, off 25 balls.
"Rashid and Noor are world-class spinners. I was trying to read them from the hand," Shashank told Star Sports after the game. "I don't improvise too much. You won't see me play the scoop, reverse sweep much. Obviously, I saw videos of them yesterday, but playing them in the match is a different feel. I was backing my shots. I had the same plan for Mohit bhai. His back-of-the-hand [slower balls] are very good, plus he uses the bouncer well. My plan was to just react to the ball and keep my mind as calm as possible."
Shashank later found good support from Ashutosh Sharma, the IPL debutant who came in as an Impact Player, with the two adding 43 off 22 for the seventh wicket. With Kings needing seven to win from the final over, Ashutosh fell first ball. Shashank, however, kept his composure and took his side home with one ball to spare. Having not shown much emotion through the game - he barely acknowledged his fifty - he let the floodgates open as he ran to the dugout helmet off, screaming in delight.
"Still trying to sink [it] in," he said at the post-match presentation. "I have visualised all these things, you visualise them before a match. But obviously turning it into reality, [I am] feeling very happy and proud of myself."
Kings captain Shikhar Dhawan was also effusive in his praise of the way Shashank timed the chase. "Magnificent," he said. "When you are chasing that big a total, you have to keep the momentum going and I feel the way Shashank played and hit those sixes effortlessly, that showed his class. He timed the ball so nicely, it looked quite effortless and at the same time he kept his cool and finished the game."
Having spent years showing his wares in domestic cricket, travelling from one place to the other, Shashank is now trying to make up for lost time. There might have been confusion at the auction about whether he was joining Kings. But now that he is here, he will hope this is a start of greater things to come.

Ashish Pant is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo