Shardul Thakur gave India the right impetus to get them back in the second Test match against South Africa at the Wanderers that was slipping out of their grasp — thanks to his first fifer and a fine display of seam and swing bowling.
South Africa batsmen Dean Elgar and Keegan Peterson had seen off the early morning fiery spell of Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami — put on 64 crucial runs for the second wicket and were in control of the game. India’s third seamer Mohammed Siraj who was hampered by a hamstring injury was not at his best and Ravichandran Ashwin, for a change, was leaking runs at more than 3.5 per over.
It was quite surprising to see stand-in captain KL Rahul bring in Shardul to bowl after Ashwin but the moment he came in, things started happening. He first got rid of South Africa captain Elgar, who was holding one end with his gritty batting, and then got the key wicket of the free-flowing Keegan Petersen (62), who was scoring the bulk of the runs in the first session. From 88-1, South Africa had gone to lunch at 102/4. That’s when Temba Bavuma and wicketkeeper Kyle Verreynee stitched together another partnership of 60 and Rahul was running out of ideas. It was Shardul once again who got both the set players to get his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket in only his sixth Test match and get India back in the game leaving South Africa at 191-7 at tea.
Shardul had made his mark with the bat in his second Test match in Brisbane when he scored 67 and reduced India’s deficit to just 30 runs and also picked up seven wickets, which proved to be crucial in India winning the match and the series against Australia. He carried on his good work in the fourth Test match at the Oval against England by scoring two half-centuries, hauling India back in a match they went on to win when they looked down and out.
On Tuesday again, when Bumrah and Shami were not able to make inroads, it was the golden arm of Shardul — brought on to bowl after 35 overs by his captain — that did the trick for his team and keep the game in balance.
Shardul Thakur finished with a mind boggling figures of 7-61, which kept South Africa's lead to just 27 runs. History says batting last on the Wanderers wicket is very tough and if India's batsmen can put up 200 runs, it would be their best chance to not only win the Test but also a first-ever series in South Africa.
Things tend to happen on the cricket field when Shardul either has the bat or the ball in his hand, no wonder he is called Lord Thakur.