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Feature

Shashank's redemption: from toiling on Mumbai's maidans to turning heads at the IPL

For a long time he struggled to break into a talent-packed Mumbai middle order in domestic cricket. Then, he moved to Chhattisgarh, honed his finishing skills, and turned his career around

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
08-Apr-2024
Shashank Singh didn't think he had the game at 27. He had been in Mumbai for nearly a decade, toiling away in the maidans and in the city's club cricket scene. He had featured in a handful of List A and T20 games a few years earlier, but the Ranji Trophy cap kept eluding him. It was then he decided to leave Mumbai for Chhattisgarh, his home state.
In his very first season with Chhattisgarh, in 2019-20, he played a key role in recording their first-ever win over Mumbai across formats at the senior level. Shashank's contribution in a chase of 318, in the List A Vijay Hazare Trophy, was a 43-ball 40 in the middle order.
While in the heat of the battle, he received plenty of sledging from the likes of Suryakumar Yadav, Shivam Dube and Sarfaraz Khan. These were the same people he had been competing with for a middle-order spot in Mumbai until a year prior. Performing against them in a seminal win unlocked oodles of self-belief.
Today, Shashank says with conviction that move to Chhattisgarh turned his career around. He resonates the confidence he has derived from doing things his own way, like his decision to forego preparations for India's civil services exams and tell his father, an IPS officer, that cricket was his true calling.
Last week at the IPL, Shashank unleashed magic, hitting a scarcely believable 29-ball 61 not out against a highly skilled Gujarat Titans attack to help chase down 200. That knock has brought instant stardom at Punjab Kings, who signed him at the 2024 auction at his base price (INR 20 lakh), under colourful circumstances that they've now quashed in multiple social-media posts.
"As a professional, you visualise finishing games," Shashank says. "A lot of credit should go to Shikhar Dhawan. The day I joined, he taught me a few visualisation techniques. His insights and experience was useful."
Kings' captain, Dhawan, first got a glimpse of Shashank the individual in February when he played under Shashank's captaincy at the DY Patil Invitational T20 tournament in Navi Mumbai. Shashank's handling of the team that included seasoned players like himself and Dinesh Karthik, impressed him. It's there he first got a glimpse of Shashank's preparation. He was convinced when the IPL came around, Kings would have the services of a mature player.
"Giving a chance to a domestic player right from the first game is a big thing," Shashank says. "If the captain comes and tells you we're backing you, just play the way you know, it makes a massive difference. You feel a burden coming in [to the tournament], but when they give you that backing, the pressure of performance vanishes."
Shashank opened the tournament with a first-ball duck against Delhi Capitals in Mullanpur. As he lined up for training ahead of the next game, he was a touch nervous until he got a tap on his shoulder. "Shikhar bhai and [Kings' head of cricket development] Sanjay [Bangar] sir said we'll keep backing you till the end. It was a big thing for me. I also got that belief that I deserve to play at this level and I'll do well."
In his three knocks since then, Shashank hasn't been dismissed. He's made scores of 21, 9 and 61 - all as a finisher. A role he has trained for specifically since deciding to move out of Mumbai prior to the 2018-19 season. He carries with him the lessons he's learnt from those struggles.
"The struggles in Bombay, like going around for matches and training, travelling long distances in local trains - all those things matter," Shashank says. "When you get into the ground, you just feel like performing. Because of all the struggles you've endured, you want it to be worth it.
"Giving a chance to a domestic player right from the first game is a big thing. If the captain comes and tells you we're backing you, just play the way you know, it makes a massive difference. You feel a burden coming in [to the tournament], but when they give you that backing, the pressure vanishes."
Shashank Singh
"Playing for DY Patil for years, I had to score that many tons of runs to get into the Mumbai side, especially for a middle-order batter. In the last 10-12 years - Surya, Shreyas, Sarfaraz, Prithvi [Shaw] - everyone was performing, and it was so tough.
"The only thing that kept me going was self-belief that I'm capable enough to be among them. Those things came from Bombay. When I was in Madhya Pradesh [where he began playing age-group cricket], I always thought I was the best and there was no competition for me. Mumbai gave me a reality check.
"When I saw guys like Siddhesh Lad, Suryakumar Yadav, they were fabulous. When I saw them batting, I realised was nowhere near them. But I really worked hard with my coach Vidya Paradkar - he's no more now. I worked with Abey Kuruvilla at DY Patil. All those things matter a lot to me."
This is Shashank's second proper stint at the IPL. He'd been part of Delhi Capitals and Rajasthan Royals too, but only first got a game in 2022 at Sunrisers Hyderabad. In his first knock that season, he made an unbeaten six-ball 25 against Gujarat Titans. He couldn't have a similar impact in four other knocks that season, but took back heaps of learnings from a conversation with MS Dhoni after one of Sunrisers' matches against Chennai Super Kings.
"If you play 10 innings as a finisher and win two games for your team, you're up there," Dhoni is supposed to have told him. This, Shashank says, gave him a "helluva lot of confidence". And so he identified areas of the game he needed to work on. One of the areas he identified with his coaches at DY Patil was to begin training differently.
"Batting at No. 6-7, you have to be mentally proactive," he explains. "You may get max six or eight balls. You need to know how to use angles, gauge the pace of the wicket quickly. So when I train in the nets, I plan that way. Like I won't go out and bat 15-20 minutes.
"I'll makes sure I bat for 20 balls and play accordingly. I'll ask bowlers about their fields, make sure they're bowling with an older ball. It's more mental. So I plan accordingly in the nets as well."
Shashank articulately and at length explains the processes that have helped him evolve. All this understanding, he says, has come over time, from having played heaps of domestic cricket.
So how did he plot the late attack on Titans?
"In team meetings, we discuss who is bowling what length, what is their strength and weakness, what shots are easy on the surface," he says. "When I was sitting out [and waiting to bat], I was looking to study ground dimensions, what are the angles I can use. It's important to be proactive as a professional.
"The good thing with this current Punjab Kings team is whatever happens on the ground, we leave it at the ground. In our team room, there's always Punjabi songs playing, we talk cricket, movies, TV shows or about our personal lives - there are a lot of nice conversations. Everyone's in good mental space."
Shashank Singh
"I was planning how to pick Rashid [Khan] and Noor [Ahmad]. I watched a lot of videos [in preparation on match eve]. During the game, against Noor, I survived an lbw shout where Hawk-Eye showed the ball as missing the stumps. I decided then I have to attack next. I knew if I am defensive he will eat me up.
"It's about the mindset and intent you show. The good thing with this current Punjab Kings team is whatever happens on the ground, we leave it at the ground. In our team room, there's always Punjabi songs playing, we talk cricket, movies, TV shows or about our personal lives - there are a lot of nice conversations. Everyone's in good mental space, it helps to perform better."
Shashank knows all too well the adulation that comes with finishing games could turn into brickbats at other times. It's something he learnt from Suryakumar when they were team-mates at the Parsi Gymkhana. He's trained himself to find a balance so that he's able to ride the highs and lows.
"There was a time last year when I couldn't be in the IPL, I was very down," Shashank says. "The Ranji Trophy was on [when he was released], I couldn't concentrate much. I always felt I belong to this level and can win matches for my team, but I was frustrated. I didn't know whether I should play or not play. But at times when I thought this game isn't meant for me, I'm glad I was lucky to get the support from my family and people around me."
At 32, Shashank doesn't know how far this new surge in his career will take him. He's simply focused on staying in the present and continuing to learn and grow.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo