On Day 2 at the Wanderers, Ashwin Ravichandran was all of us. As the off-spinner walked in to celebrate Kyle Verreynne’s wicket, he couldn’t help but be astonished by what Shardul Thakur had done in the innings.
“Yarra nee, engendhu da pudichanga unna? Nee ball potaale wicket vizhum,” Ashwin said aloud in Tamil as he joined the huddle. Roughly translated, it means, “Who are you man, where did they find you. You just bowl and take wickets.”
The words said in jest, of course, aptly summed up the phenomena that Thakur is. He has the knack of picking up wickets when the team needs them most and frankly, for a captain, that is the most desirable trait of all.
But for a while, KL Rahul seemed to have forgotten about Thakur. The day started with Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah. Then, he turned to Mohammed Siraj and Ashwin. Finally, almost as an afterthought, he handed the ball over to Thakur.
At that point of the innings, Thakur had bowled just one ball out of the 36 overs that the SA essay had lasted. That one ball was bowled because Siraj had hobbled off on Day 1 with a hamstring problem and someone needed to complete his over.
But throw Thakur a challenge and he will invariably rise above it.
Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen had kept the Indian bowlers at bay with some very patient cricket but perhaps the arrival of Thakur lulled them into thinking that they could take things easy.
Thakur doesn’t have the genius of Bumrah or the control of Shami or even the boundless energy of Siraj but his incredible confidence in himself makes up for everything he lacks. Through almost sheer will he can surprise batters and get the breakthroughs for his team.
Thakur wasn’t bowling express pace but he hits the pitch hard and bowls what many call a ‘heavy ball’. He got one to dart across Elgar, moving pretty sharply, to take the edge through to the keeper. It was a thin edge but Thakur and India had the wicket they wanted.
A little later, he produced a delivery that earned Ian Botham many wickets. Thakur has been nicknamed ‘Beefy’ by his team-mates and he pitched it right up to Petersen. It was outside off, moving away and drew the batter into it.
Petersen knew he had made a mistake and seemed to admonish himself all the way to the dressing room. But he had been tempted and that had proved to be his undoing.
Thakur struck again in the last over before lunch to send back Rassie van der Dussen. The ball came back into the batter sharply off the seam, took the inside edge onto the thigh before Pant caught it.
At that point, Thakur had figures of 3/8 in 4.5 overs and if he had not done anything for the rest of the day... or perhaps even the tour, no one would have complained. But he wasn’t done... not by a long shot.
With some wickets under his wings, he truly took flight. He broke the 60-run stand between Temba Bavuma and Kyle Verreynne by trapping the latter leg before the wicket. Then, he sent back Bavuma and Marco Jansen too before finally wrapping up the innings with the wicket of Lungi Ngidi.
Thakur finished with rather incredible figures of 17.5-3-61-7, breaking a slew of records on the way. It was his day but only because he chose to make it so by utterly believing in himself.
“The team management and selectors think that I’m a genuine bowler,” Thakur said after Day 2 at the Wanderers. “That’s why I’m here. My performances in domestic cricket, in red-ball and white-ball cricket have been rewarded. Whenever given an opportunity to play for India, I’m always up for it, especially Test cricket. When I’m playing red-ball cricket, my energy is different, my mindset is different. I’m always willing to take wickets for the team.”
He added: “It’s important to have an understanding of the situations in the game and also, around the team, when you are playing in overseas conditions. Conditions change at every ground. We aren’t used to playing in these conditions. So, I have to keep adapting.”
And if he keeps adapting like this, the opposition won’t be able to take him lightly any more for this man always means business.
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