4th Test: Pacers peg back England after Thakur’s counter-attack

  • With his team staring down the barrel at 127/7 when Umesh Yadav walked in to join him, Thakur launched a blistering counter-attack on England’s two most successful bowlers of the opening day of the fourth Test - Chris Woakes (4/55) and Ollie Robinson (3/38).
Shardul Thakur whips one on the leg side for four. (Getty)
Shardul Thakur whips one on the leg side for four. (Getty)
Updated on Sep 03, 2021 07:13 AM IST
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BySanjjeev K Samyal, Mumbai

Shardul Thakur is a tough nut to crack for any opposition. Irrespective of how good his skillsets are, one thing he is gifted in abundance is attitude. Australia learnt it in Brisbane early this year when he opened his account in international cricket by hooking their fearsome fast bowler Pat Cummins for a six. England learnt about his gung-ho spirit on Thursday.

With his team staring down the barrel at 127/7 when Umesh Yadav walked in to join him, Thakur launched a blistering counter-attack on England’s two most successful bowlers of the opening day of the fourth Test - Chris Woakes (4/55) and Ollie Robinson (3/38). On another exhilarating day of cricket between these two exciting sides, Thakur turned the spotlight on himself with a 36-ball 57 (4x7, 6x3). In the process, he helped India reach a respectable total of 191.

Also Read | India vs England, 4th Test, Day 1, Highlights

There was a half-century from captain Virat Kohli but the Indian supporters’ truly found their voice in the final session when Thakur decided to take the bull by the horns. With Root looking to attack him with Woakes and Robinson, the player from Palghar district of Maharashtra mainly looked to hit down the ground and the leg side when the pacers pitched short. After smashing Woakes and Craig Overton for a six each, Thakur brought the house down by pulling Robinson over the midwicket fence to reach his fifty in 31 balls. It was the second fastest half-century in Test cricket for India and fastest against England.

Thakur targeted Woakes for special treatment. Out of his 57, he took 35 runs off the 20 balls he faced from the bowler, hitting him for six fours and a six. In the 63-run eighth wicket partnership with Umesh Yadav, the latter’s contribution being 10.

Buoyed by his teammate’s late heroics, Jasprit Bumrah struck two early blows to reduce the home team to six for two. To cap a fine comeback, Umesh Yadav produced a peach of a delivery to clean up Joe Root, the thorn in India’s flesh, leaving England tottering on 53/3 at stumps and the Test on an even keel.

Thakur’s hitting may have helped in lifting the spirits somewhat but for the entire opening two sessions India’s batting made for painful watching. Coming into the series, the batters may have channeled their energy in preparation for the threat of James Anderson and Stuart Broad only to find themselves ambushed by Robinson.

Also Read | VIDEO: Shardul hits 2nd fastest fifty by an Indian in Tests; Twitter goes crazy

They should have known that. Tall fast bowlers have always troubled batters from the subcontinent. The 6 feet 5-inch-tall Robinson, whose point of release is highest after Kyle Jamieson in international cricket, again inflicted crucial blows on the tourists. He had wrecked the Indian line-up in the second innings at Headingley with a match-winning five-wicket haul. There was no respite at The Oval. In picking up two five-wicket hauls what he has also done is helped his team stop the opposition’s main man -Kohli.

Anderson has prized out the star player twice this series, but what is more frustrating for Kohli is that Robinson is getting him when well set. In the first innings at Lord’s, Kohli had his eye when Robinson had him caught by Root for 42. In the last innings at Leeds, Kohli had done all the hard work to reach 55 when the same combination struck again. On Thursday, Robinson cut short Kohli’s innings at 50 again stopping him from converting a good start.

It was not just Kohli’s troubles against the strapping pacer which was under scrutiny at the Oval. Some of his unusual decisions also came under the lens. Against cricketing logic, R Ashwin was omitted from the team on England’s most spin-friendly venue. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Ravindra Jadeja came out at No 5 in place of Ajinkya Rahane. The move flopped with the left-hander out for 10 runs.

Earlier, England had easily seized the advantage after electing to bowl on winning the toss. After the returning Woakes provided the early spark with the wicket of in-form opener Rohit Sharma, Robinson prized out the other two big fish, Kohli and KL Rahul.

This, after a rare morning in English conditions that Anderson couldn’t extract movement with the new ball. It made the wicket look low and slow. Sharma and Rahul played with calm assurance to take India to 28 for no loss in seven overs.

It proved to the lull before the storm. Woakes, returning to the side for the first time in a year following Covid complications and injury, needed just six deliveries get the hosts up and running. He bowled a beauty to dismiss Sharma, for 11. It was the moment of inspiration that England bowlers needed. A few overs later, Robinson got Rahul to reduce India to 28/2. England bowlers have changed their strategy against the Karnataka player by targeting him with the incoming ball. The plan worked again.

In walked Kohli. Anderson would have introduced straight away but Root chose to wait a couple of overs. When Anderson was brought on, Kohli defended the first five balls before playing an exquisite on-drive off the last. The touch drive helped him reach 23,000 runs in international cricket in 490 innings. Despite his recent run without a hundred for close to two years, it’s remarkable that he is the quickest batsman to reach the mark.

At tea, India were 122/6. The home team had claimed both the sessions with Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane and Rishabh Pant’s struggles continuing. But, the momentum in this series has swung like a pendulum and staying true to the script, the visitors took charge in the final period of play.

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