Shardul Thakur on Covid-19 outbreak in India's bubble: 'There was fear that it could happen to me or to anyone'

Shardul Thakur made twin fifties at The Oval PA Photos/Getty Images

India's assistant physio Yogesh Parmar testing positive for Covid-19 ahead of the Manchester Test left the team feeling vulnerable and fearful, according to pacer Shardul Thakur. Speaking to the Indian Express, Thakur said that the physio had worked with "everyone" ahead of the match, and so the team was shaken by his test results.

"We were worried about what will happen, who will be infected since Parmar had treated everyone," Thakur said. "We didn't know how things would go ahead because tracking this infection is next to impossible. The next four-five days were vulnerable for us because there was fear that it could happen to me or it could happen to anyone. Everyone was worried about their and their family's health."

The fifth - and final - Test in Manchester was postponed indefinitely in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak within the India bubble. News that the match wouldn't begin as originally planned came in hours before the scheduled toss on September 10, after Parmar had returned a positive Covid-19 test on September 8. He had had to double up on his duties midway into the fourth Test at The Oval, after lead physio Nitin Patel went into isolation, having being identified as a close contact of India head coach Ravi Shastri, who tested positive on the third evening of the fourth Test. Two other members of India's support staff, bowling coach Bharat Arun, fielding coach R Sridhar, had also tested positive at the time.

Before the tour came to an abrupt end, though, Thakur, a frontline pace bowler, had played a key role - with the bat - in India going 2-1 up in the Test series. His twin fifties at The Oval were pivotal to India's 157-run victory.

Thakur, who made his Test debut in 2018, had made a comeback of sorts with the red ball for India on the 2020-21 tour of Australia, and since then he has three half-centuries in five innings. He has worked hard on his batting, he said, and the string of significant scores - he also made a vital 67 in India's series-clinching, three-wicket win at the Gabba - was no coincidence.

"Lower-order batsman contributing always helps, and there have been many instances where 40-50 runs make a huge difference. When I made my comeback in the Indian team, I practiced with our throwdown specialists Raghu [Raghavendra] and Nuwan [Seneviratne] - they are very quick. Initially, I wasn't able to play them. I tried to improve my footwork when I faced them and slowly, slowly my batting improved. The more I played them the more I got adjusted to the pace. Whatever runs I have scored so far, there has been a process that I have followed, it's not a coincidence or stroke of luck."

He also picked up a vital tip from former India captain MS Dhoni along the way. "Once I was in Mahi bhai's room and holding his bat. He told me that my batting grip is too high and I need to hold it lower to get better control over the shot. Now I hold my bat there and it helps."

Thakur plays under Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings and, following the upcoming IPL, he will also be working with Dhoni at the T20 World Cup; Dhoni has been named team mentor, and Thakur is a reserve player in the squad. He expects Dhoni to give India a leg-up during the campaign.

"I'm very happy with the decision," Thakur said. "I've played along with him for three years now, and I know that his experience comes in handy. He will bring more ideas to the team. I think Virat [Kohli] and Ravi bhai will also get some help from him. Mahi bhai will bring one more angle, especially when we're in tricky situations."