Shardul Thakur has had a frustrating start to his international career where injuries have been the biggest roadblock in his progress. Add to it the intense competition a fast bowler has to face today to make it to India’s Playing XI, things aren’t getting any easier for the Mumbai pacer.

Shardul made his first-class debut in 2012 and it was only after he found success in IPL under the leadership of MS Dhoni and Stephen Fleming at Rising Pune Supergiant and then Chennai Super Kings that he graduated to the next level, making his India bow in August 2017.

The 28-year-old revealed how working with Dhoni and Fleming was an ‘important break’ for him. “In 2017 IPL, when I was transferred from Kings XI to RPS, that was an important break for me,” Shardul told the Hindustan Times. “Before that I hadn’t played much with the white ball. When in the 2018 auction I went to CSK, I was very happy because we had the same support staff, Dhoni bhai was also around. I knew how our coach Stephen Fleming works, how Mahi bhai works. When you establish a rapport, it gets easier for the player.”

He continued, “Whenever I play, both give me a free hand. They come and ask what my plan is for the opponent.’What are you thinking? How are you going to tackle the batsmen?’ They just helped me with better answers. If you are thinking about yorkers, they will talk it out: whether to bowl stump yorkers or wide yorkers. They give you that clarity.”

When with Kings XI Punjab, Shardul played just one game but after joining RPS, he became a regular, playing in 12 matches during the 2017 season and taking 11 wickets at 28.63. For CSK, which returned to the IPL fold after two-year suspension, he has so far taken 24 wickets in 23 matches.

Having regained full fitness, he’s now aiming to become an indispensable part of Indian setup. “I feel the ball is coming out of my hand really well. Whatever matches I play in, this is my mantra: ‘bowl hard, bowl fast’. You have to get ahead of the opponents, what they are thinking or not thinking and in what frame of mind the batsman has come out to bat,” Thakur said.

His latest assignment will be the three-match T20I series and then Australia ODIs.

He says facing Australia will be a challenge and a chance to put out his A game. “It is an ideal opportunity for all of us to show our A game because the stronger the opponent, the more you will get tested. I look at it as an opportunity. If they are getting tougher, how do we put our A game on the park? How do you bail out your team from a tough situation?” he said.

The emergence of Deepak Chahar, a bowler who has a similar skillet, has made the competition even tougher. His injury though gives Shardul an ideal opportunity to make an impression.

However, he disagrees that there’s a competition between the two for the same spot. “I don’t think we are fighting for the same spot. Don’t think we are similar bowlers. We have different sets of skills too. I don’t believe I am fighting for the same spot with anyone for that matter. If you do well, you are going to play. If he does well, he is going to play. At the end of the day, we are playing for the country,” he said.