If you Google ‘Shardul Thakur’, the result that shows up is interesting. You scroll down the first page and for the section that says ‘people also ask’. There, you will see a question people evidently ask Google often. Is Shardul Thakur a batsman?
After his latest exploits in Test cricket, Google can confidently reply with this: Shardul Thakur is an all-rounder.
Team effort would, perhaps, be the most accurate way of summing up India’s win over England in the fourth Test at The Oval. Every bowler made a vital contribution at some stage of the match and every batter, barring Ajinkya Rahane, made a difference with crucial runs or time spent in the middle.
But if there was one player who made a telling impact in each of the four innings, a player who kept changing the complexion of the game with both bat and ball, it was Thakur.
There was just one century scored, for which Rohit Sharma won the player of the match award, and none of the bowlers bagged even a four-for.
Among the batsmen, Virat Kohli got a half-century in the first innings and followed that up with a 44 in the second. While Rohit, KL Rahul, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rishabh Pant all contributed in the second innings. And among the bowlers, Jasprit Bumrah, Umesh Yadav, Ravindra Jadeja and Mohammed Siraj hunted as a pack in both innings and ensured the wickets taken were spread out nicely.
But Thakur... he was the biggest thorn in England’s flesh. Every time the hosts tried to get ahead in the game, the 29-year-old came into the match and pegged them back.
For Virat Kohli, he proved to be a trump card he was allowed to use as many times he wanted.
In the first innings of the match, England had India on the mat at 127/7. But from there on, Thakur hit seven fours and three sixes in a devastating 57 off 36. His knock ensured India weren’t shunted out of the contest on day one, like they were in the third Test, and posted a somewhat respectable total of 191.
In the second innings, he got the wicket of England’s top scorer. Ollie Pope, making a comeback to England’s side, was determined from the moment he got to the crease. He defended close to his body and left the ball patiently. But when he was well set, batting on 81 off 158 and eyeing a century, Thakur returned to the attack and got him playing on. That strike went a long way in ensuring England’s first innings lead was restricted to just inside 100 runs.
In the third innings, Thakur once again showed the importance of having a proper No 8 batsman in the team. India led by 213 runs when he arrived at the crease and on a pitch that wasn’t deteriorating, they had to ensure the target set was bigger. And it was Thakur’s take-the-bull-by-the-horns approach that triggered the change in momentum again. He was aggressive from the get-go, scored a 72-ball 60, and helped India eventually finish with a 368-run target for England.
Remembered for a long time
And in the fourth innings, he landed two crucial blows with the ball. Firstly, England’s openers had done well to bat out almost an entire session and remain unbeaten at stumps on day four. But early on day five, it was Thakur who set the ball rolling for India by removing Rory Burns with a peach of a delivery in his first over.
Later in the day, he claimed the wicket India wanted the most. England were building a partnership after suffering a mini collapse but Thakur returned to the attack for a second spell and with his very first delivery, he sent Joe Root packing. If there was one batsman who could have allowed England to dream of earning a draw, it was Root. But Thakur’s dismissal of him all but sealed the deal for India.
As per his increasingly popular moniker, Thakur lorded it over England at The Oval.
“If you look at the impact performance we were looking for from the lower middle order, I think what Shardul has done in this game has to be remembered for a long time,” said skipper Kohli in the post-match presentation ceremony.
“Even in the first innings, he stood up. His 50 was actually the difference between a 150-160 lead and a 100-run lead. And his 60 in the the second innings as well, a counter-attacking one, I felt like it deflated the opposition. When I got out in the morning, they were looking for a few more breakthroughs and trying to restrict us to a reasonable total. But I think the way he batted in the second innings was outstanding.”
Kohli demands a fearless approach from his players. No matter the situation, they ought to face every challenge head-on. It is similar to Mumbai’s famous cricketing school of thought that expects players to be khadoos. And Thakur, a Mumbaikar, isn’t merely a reflection of that mentality. He is the embodiment of it.
It is likely that India will continue to chop and change their team combination in the matches and series to come, under Kohli’s leadership. But having Thakur in the mix will reassure them. They will know that he may not go on to break records but sooner or later, he will make a big impact. Two of India’s finest away Test victories in recent times – at the Gabba and at The Oval – will be the proof they need.