London: Shardul Thakur marked his return to India duty with a record-breaking fifty that saw the tourists fight back on the first day of the fourth Test England at the Oval on Thursday.
Thakur made 57, including a fifty in just 31 balls — the fastest in terms of balls faced in a Test in England — as he revived India from 117-6 to a total of 191 all out after they had lost the toss in overcast, bowler-friendly conditions.
Jasprit Bumrah then removed both openers in the same over before Umesh Yadav captured the prize wicket of England captain Joe Root for 21 after the star batsman, now top of the world rankings, had made hundreds in the first three Tests of a five-match series all square at 1-1.
At stumps, England were 53-3, a deficit of 138 runs.
Earlier Thakur’s blistering innings surpassed England great Ian Botham’s 32-ball fifty against New Zealand, also at the Oval, in 1986 as the quickest in a Test in England.
India captain Virat Kohli, who made exactly 50, was the only other India batsman to pass 17.
When the often dynamic Rishabh Pant fell cheaply for nine, India were in trouble at 127-7.
‘In your slot, hit it’
But Thakur, back in the side after suffering a hamstring injury in the drawn first Test at Trent Bridge, counter-attacked in fine style.
“There are two ways: you can either be patient and bank on all of the partners coming in, or if it’s in your slot hit it,” Thakur told Sky Sports.
“There is no right or wrong way — runs are runs — but today was a day where I was connecting properly, so I kept going for the shots.”
England all-rounder Chris Woakes, playing his first Test in over a year because of injuries and Covid complications, took 4-55 in 15 overs.
“When you win a toss and put a team into bat, to bowl them out for 191 is almost pretty much job done, but to lose three tonight, including Joe, kind of keeps it in the balance,” Woakes said.
England, having seen their openers share a century during last week’s innings and 76-run win in the third Test at Headingley, were 6-2 on Thursday.
Bumrah had Rory Burns playing on for five on the Surrey left-hander’s home ground and four balls later he had Haseeb Hameed, attempting a flamboyant square cut, caught behind for a duck.
And when Root was bowled between bat and pad, England were 53-3.
Ashwin omitted again
Before the match there had been speculation over whether India would recall star off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, who has 413 Test wickets and five hundreds, for his first match of the series.
But he was left out yet again, with India deploying Thakur and Yadav in place of dropped fellow pacemen Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami.
Significantly, India’s top order was unchanged despite a dismal 78 all out in the first innings at Headingley.
First-change Woakes struck with his sixth ball Thursday when Rohit Sharma (11) fended a steeply rising delivery to Jonny Bairstow, back keeping wicket after Jos Buttler missed this match due to paternity leave.
Only Kohli, dropped on 22 by Root at first slip off Woakes, offered any top-order resistance before his second successive half-century ended when, trying to turn seamer Ollie Robinson (3-38) legside, he edged behind.
It seemed England’s only concern in the field was when all-time great James Anderson bloodied his whites falling over in his follow through.
But Thakur’s blazing innings, which included three sixes and seven fours, with the best a sensational whip shot off Woakes that soared high over long-on, turned the tide to the delight of a large contingent of India fans at an increasingly sunny Oval.
Thakur, however, was reprieved on 43 when Bairstow fumbled a miscued hook off Robinson — one of several dropped catches in the innings that cost 42 runs in total — before Woakes had the India hero lbw on review.