There’s a simple way in which Shardul Thakur starts his innings. He keeps a clear head and focusses solely on driving the ball hard along the ground. The aerial shots appear soon enough but at the start, it’s all about driving that ball with force. It helps that the ball usually isn’t new when he comes to the crease, and scoreboard pressure is a term that’s alien to him.

On day four of the fourth Test against England, Thakur used the same template and registered his second half-century of the match. His contribution with the bat, along with that of the other Indian fast bowlers, proved to be critical for the visitors.

As it happened: England vs India – day four of the fourth Test at The Oval

India were in a serious spot of bother when Thakur walked out to the middle on Sunday. Skipper Virat Kohli had just been dismissed and in conditions that were still solid for batting, the visitors had a lead of 213 runs at the time. They somehow had to stretch that close to 300 at least.

But again, Thakur seemed to be under no pressure. He got along with Rishabh Pant to add a 100-run partnership for the seventh wicket. He was the aggressor throughout and hit seven fours and a six in his 72-ball 60.

For the second time in the match, England’s bowlers seemed to have no solution for Thakur. He has a steady base, plays with a high elbow, can attack the short ball, and is devastating against full deliveries. Not for the first time in his career, he put on a front-foot driving exhibition.

“Very impressive. We all knew he (Thakur) could bat,” said India batting coach Vikram Rathour after the day’s play.

“He is someone who works very hard at his batting. I think his biggest asset is his temperament… the kind of confidence he carries while batting and the body language he has. He has already played some very, very important innings in his young career. That tells you he has the ability and can play a big role in Indian cricket in the coming times.”

India’s lower order wasn’t done, though, when Thakur departed. India lead by 315 runs with two wickets in hand when Thakur and Pant walked back in quick succession. The visitors had achieved their goal of crossing the 300-run target but with the pitch not deteriorating, they knew they had to keep pushing forward with the bat.

And in came Umesh Yadav and Jasprit Bumrah. Yadav showed once again the power he possesses and cracked two sixes and a four in his 23-ball 25. While Bumrah, with a new-found confidence after his exploits in the Lord’s Test, drove the ball like a specialist batsman in his 38-ball 24.

India’s fast bowlers – Thakur, Yadav, Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj – contributed 112 runs in India’s second innings total of 466.

India had got runs at the top of the order but the likes of Kohli (44), Ravindra Jadeja (17) and Ajinkya Rahane (0) hadn’t done enough. Just like the second Test, it was India’s pacers who shouldered responsibility with the bat. If it wasn’t for their contribution, England would’ve faced a far less daunting target than the 368 they ended up with.

Openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed batted out the final session on day four to take England to 77/0 at stumps. Their unbeaten partnership was further proof of how the Oval pitch, with the help of sunny overhead conditions, was tailor-made for batting.

On the final day, England need 291 more runs to win with all 10 wickets in hand. It promises to be another absorbing day of Test cricket in what has been a highly entertaining series. For India, every run could matter. And if they do go on to win, they’ll know their lower-order runs were priceless.