“Wherever I go, if I say my name is Rajinikanth, everyone stares at me at least for three extra seconds. A lot of people wouldn’t believe it too.”
The line from a Tamil movie Acham Enbathu Madamaiyada, starring Silambarasan TR playing a character named after the popular film star ‘Rajinikanth’, perhaps resonates with Tamil Nadu’s all-rounder Shahrukh Khan.
Named on the suggestion of his mother’s cousin after the famous Bollywood star – and KKR team owner – Shahrukh invariably draws attention thanks to his name.
“My mother’s cousin sister is a Shah Rukh Khan fan, she suggested the name,” he tells Cricketnext. “It did feel a bit different when I was young, say under-13 or under-14 days – everyone would be like ‘enna, Shah Rukh Khan ah?’
“But with time it became normal. The name does get me attention, but I don’t think too much about it.
“It doesn’t amuse me, I’ve been having my name for the last 25 years! When someone new sees me, they’ll be like ‘oh Shah Rukh Khan’. In the back of the mind I know there is attention on the name, but just like you’re all used to your names, I too am used to mine.”
While it’s perhaps amusing for the rest of the world, Shahrukh is on course to creating his own identity on the cricket field.
Shahrukh rose through the ranks in Tamil Nadu cricket as a sort of child prodigy. He raked up runs in heaps playing for two schools famous for cricket in Chennai – Don Bosco and St Bedes, and played in the TNCA league even before he turned 13. By 18, he made his debut for Tamil Nadu in the shorter formats and made it to the Ranji Trophy squad. He even narrowly missed the bus to the Indian team for the Under-19 World Cup in 2014.
Yet, it’s only in the last two years that Shahrukh is really coming off age in his cricket career. He made it to the Tamil Nadu Vijay Hazare Trophy squad last season as a cover for M Vijay, but through sheer weight of performances, has become one of the mainstays of the state’s limited-overs batting.
Not necessarily through big knocks, but through high impact performances as a hard-hitting finisher. Sample his performance in the just concluded Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, where Tamil Nadu emerged champions:
12 (4) vs Jharkhand
18* (10) vs Odisha
40* (19) vs Himachal Pradesh – quarterfinal
18* (7) vs Baroda – final
“I’ve always been like this, I play with a good strike rate. I opened in TNPL as there was no specialist opener in my team (Lyca Kovai Kings), and I was successful. So I continued for two years,” he explains.
“When I came to the Tamil Nadu team, the requirement was a middle order finisher as there was no one else. They took me for that role and it suited me as well. I can create good impact in matches when I play lower down the order, because I’ve definitely got the power to hit fours and sixes at will. Playing as a finisher is suiting me the best now.”
Being a ‘finisher’ in domestic cricket is a double-edged sword. Batsmen generally want to bat up the order, as selection often depends on ‘runs scored’ than any other factor. A century on a flat pitch makes it to the headlines, a cameo on a tough pitch might not. Not to forget the inherent difficulties and risks of batting in the lower middle order.
Shahrukh, though, trusts that people are beginning to value ‘impact’ knocks.
“A lot of batsmen score runs, but everyone is starting to see who is creating impact. I’ve scored a lot of runs in age group cricket till Under-19 but I didn’t get that break. Now I’m getting that break,” he says.
“Looking back, more than the runs, it’s the impact innings that are more commanding.
“Definitely there is demand for Indian finishers, everyone knows it. A power hitter who can bat at No. 6 or so depending on the situation, with an ability to change the game… there’s always demand for such players, especially at present.”
With such skills, and good form in the one-day and T20 tournaments last season, Shahrukh was expected to make it to an IPL team. That, though, didn’t happen as he found no takers in the player auction for IPL 2020.
“I was definitely disappointed. If I tell you I wasn’t disappointed, I’m lying,” he says. “But I overcame it really well. Looking back, I knew what was coming next, I knew what to do next.
“Last January I had undergone a surgery on my little finger. After that I didn’t play much, there was the lockdown and I was recovering for three months. Then I somehow found ways to play. There was an indoor facility near my house, I would play in my friend’s terrace…so I kept in touch.
“I knew that I had to keep working on my role. As a finisher, you have to keep sharpening your skills because bowlers will quickly find you out. If they see you hitting a specific length or line, they’ll change it. When you go lower down the order, there are five people outside the circle and the bowlers keep changing up. So I worked a lot on my skills, my hitting areas. There are still a lot of areas to improve, just trying to improve every day.”
The results are there to see. He’s connecting the big hits consistently, especially against pace. He seems to have got stronger too. Shahrukh credits his trainer and ‘father figure’ Azhariah Prabhakar, TN assistant coach R Prasanna and captain Dinesh Karthik for their roles.
“I was working on my game alone, to be honest. I used to get inputs from R Prasanna, the Tamil Nadu assistant coach. He’s very sharp, knows how to go about things,” he says.
“Azhariah Prabhakar, he’s like a father figure to me. I’ve been training with him since I was 15. He has also helped me a lot mentally, and to get me stronger. I discuss everything with him, he’s been a big influence on my career and life as well. I’ll continue training with him in future as well.
“Last year, it was he (Karthik) who got me into the finisher role. During practice, he’d stand behind me and tell me how to play in different situations. He helped me a lot last year, even in the one-dayers. He talks a lot to me about the role – on shots to play, bowlers to target etc.”
A day after the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final, Shahrukh flew to Nagpur to trial for the Rajasthan Royals team. A day later, he was at the trial for Kolkata Knight Riders.
Could this perhaps be the year he breaks in?
“This year I have no expectation. There’s absolutely nothing in my mind, I’ll be frank. I’m blank. People are talking (about IPL chances) but that’s about it. I’m not giving too much attention to that.”