India vs Australia: Shardul finds the right length, reins in the Aussie innings
- India vs Australia: In his first away Test, Shardul Thakur picked up 3/94, bowling 24 overs after Navdeep Saini went off injured on Day 1.
Shardul Thakur’s last first-class match, in December 2019, was a forgettable outing. The surprising part was it was on a green Wankhede Stadium wicket, tailor-made for his strengths as a swing bowler.
In that game against Railways, Thakur went wicketless and domestic powerhouse Mumbai suffered the humiliation of defeat at home. To make it worse, Railways new-ball bowlers T Pradeep and Amit Mishra had a field day, sharing nine wickets to rout Mumbai for 114. In the second innings, pacer Himanshu Sangwan claimed a five-wicket haul to bowl out the hosts for 198, Railways sealing a 10-wicket win.
Thakur is a vastly experienced first-class cricketer, having played 62 red-ball games since debut in 2012. However, juggling between two formats has been a challenge for him after becoming a white-ball specialist with the India team. His teammates thus don’t know which Thakur will turn up in the longer format.
In his first away Test, however, Thakur has made the necessary adjustments. His spell at the Gabba on Saturday morning was priceless, restricting Australia to 369 all out when 500 seemed to be on the cards as set batsmen often cash in at Brisbane. He finished with 3/94, bowling 24 overs after Navdeep Saini went off injured on Day 1.
With the sixth-wicket pair of Cameron Green and skipper Tim Paine entrenched, he provided India the breakthrough. A trademark full and swinging delivery sent back Paine. He followed it up with a dipping full toss to trap Pat Cummins leg before.
Pradeep Sunderam, then Mumbai bowling coach, recalls the pacer’s frustration in that Railways game. “When I spoke to him he said, “Sir, itna used to ho gaya hai white ball ko, yeh ball jam nahin raha hai (Got so used to the white ball, I’m struggling to adjust to the length I must bowl with the red ball). I straightaway played this game.”
Thakur had played an ODI against West Indies at Cuttack and within a day of landing in Mumbai was bowling with the red ball. Attacking bowling in helpful conditions requires the bowler to pitch it closer to the batsmen while in the shorter formats, pacers shorten the length to avoid being hit through the line. “His plus point is the ball that leaves the batsmen. Keeping the ball slightly up is very important as far his bowling is concerned. And because he has a very good bouncer, if you combine it with perfect length deliveries, he will get the results,” said Sunderam, a former Rajasthan pacer bowler who has taken all 10 wickets in an innings in the Ranji Trophy.
Thakur comes from the same school cricket stable as Rohit Sharma, and trained under coach Dinesh Lad at Swami Vivekanand School, Borivali. The India vice-captain thus knows Thakur’s game well.
“I have seen him for many years playing together in Mumbai. I have seen him bowl a lot, I understand his strengths; he likes to swing the ball and likes to pitch it up and nick off the batter, which he did in the morning to Tim Paine. That is his strength. He is (only) playing his first Test away from home, Shardul has worked really hard with the team, been around with the team for a number of years now,” the India opener said.
Thakur, 29, burst on to the scene with the reputation for bowling a good short ball. Like most pacers though, he gets carried away at times. Unlike spearhead Jasprit Bumrah, he hasn’t managed to find the balance and use it as a surprise weapon. As Rohit said, his ability to get batsmen to nick was seen in Brisbane too. Once he got the two important wickets with full deliveries, his first ball to Nathan Lyon was short. With the length shortened, Lyon (24 off 22 balls) and Starc (20* off 35 balls) found it easy to score off him. The last three Australia batsmen added 54 runs to stretch the total from 315/8.
Rohit said consistency will come when Thakur plays more international cricket. “In patches he bowled really well, (but) the consistency needs to be there. That will come as he plays more games for India. He has got the temperament to play at the highest level.
“We know how important it is to swing the ball whichever conditions you are playing in and I thought he swung the ball really well. He has got the pace and the attitude; it’s all about carrying that confidence game after game and doing the right thing. From what I saw of him in this innings, I liked what he did.”
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