Shardul Thakur, the 30-year-old bowler who replaced the wounded Mohammed Siraj on Day 2 of the Johannesburg Test between India and South Africa on Tuesday, wasted no time in doing what he does best: breaking a promising-looking combination.
On Day 2 of the ongoing second Test against South Africa, Thakur captured a career-high 7 for 61. The Proteas were bowled out for 229 in response to India's first-innings total of 202, thanks to Thakur's excellence.
How Thakur comes to save the day
South Africa had held India wicketless in the opening hour of play, with Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen carrying on a fifty-run stand, but Thakur broke the intimidating stand, having Elgar caught behind.
When the second day's play concluded, India had made only one forced change, in the batting, and was content to keep the bowling unit intact. Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammad Shami were at their prime at the start of Day 2.
One was cutting batsmen in half with unusual angles from outside the crease, while the other was funneling the ball into the channel, the corridor of doubt, from near to the stumps with the accuracy of a bowling machine.
Nonetheless, Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen managed to keep everything out. Only 16 runs were scored in the first ten overs of the day, and while India was unable to pick up wickets, they were putting massive pressure. Mohammad Siraj, who had healed sufficiently from a right leg injury — perhaps hamstring or thigh — to bowl but not sufficiently to perform at his best, was unable to force the matter.
Then came Shardul Thakur. Shardul gave away no runs and took three of the biggest South African wickets on offer in a 30-ball performance that ended on the stroke of lunch. Elgar, who had 120 balls for 28 runs, was beaten by a ball that went with the angle, perhaps seamed away a bit, and nicked off to the keeper. Petersen, who had looked really good for his 62, was duped into driving at one of the outsides off stumps.
The ball appeared to be catchable, but when it landed, Petersen was not on pitch and ended up guiding it to second slip. Rassie van der Dussen was assaulted by a nipbacker. Shardul got the ball to come back in enough to take the inside edge from a length, and the delivery had enough energy to carry to the keeper off the pad.
Shardul completed with 7 for 61, the best returns for any Indian bowler in South Africa. When asked if this was the best he has bowled, considering that they were by far his greatest stats, Shardul was his normal uber-confident optimistic self: "I believe my best is yet to come."
"My performance in domestic cricket with red-ball cricket and white-ball cricket has been rewarded. Whenever given an opportunity to play for India, I am always up for it and especially in Test cricket as it is the purest form of the game," said Shardul in the press conference after the end of the day's play.
Shardul Thakur also spoke about the influence his childhood coach Dinesh Lad had on him.
He provided me with the exposure, offered me an admission in a school in Borivali and since then my life has changed," he recalled.