In a short international Test career, Shardul Thakur has proved quite a few times already that he is a gritty player and that he shines when the chips are completely down.
His dogged 67 against Australia in Brisbane early last year in the first innings and two fifties against England at the Oval later in the year came when nobody expected that kind of performance from him. On both occasions, India went on to win the game. In the game against Australia, he also took seven wickets when he played as a fourth seamer after injuries to main pacers.
On Tuesday in the second Test against South Africa at the Wanderers, Thakur once again delivered and took his first five-for in Test cricket. Injury to Mohammed Siraj late on day one on Monday meant Thakur had to bowl much more than he is used to as a fourth seamer and he didn't disappoint. Not only he bowled a lot but he also picked up his best bowling figures in the longest format of the game.
South Africa resumed the day on 35/1 and looked in control for the large part of the first session thanks to the Dean Elgar-Keegan Petersen stand before Thakur's great spell changed the complexion of the game. In the blink of an eye, the Proteas were reduced from 88/1 to 102/4 with Thakur accounting for Elgar, Petersen and Rassie van der Dussen shortly before lunch. The Indians were well and truly back in the match.
Dark clouds came rolling back in for the Indians after another solid stand, this time between Temba Bavuma and Kyle Verreynne. Thakur again put his hand up amid the inefficacy of other Indian bowlers and removed both the batsmen to claim his first five-for in Test cricket. He went on to take seven wickets in all at the expense of 61 runs -- one of the best bowling performances by an Indian seamer in recent years.
In fact, the last time an Indian seamer took seven wickets in a Test innings was in 2014 when Ishant Sharma took a match-winning 7/74 at Lord's. Thanks to Thakur's exploits with the ball, the Proteas could only manage an innocuous lead of 27 runs -- from an Indian point of view.
If truth be told, Thakur the batsman as well as Thakur the bowler doesn't inspire much confidence in terms of skills but it's also a fact that he delivers in the time of sheer crisis which speaks to his strong mental make-up and his desire to succeed as an India cricketer. His bowling has indeed given India a lifeline who were bowled for a lowly 202 on day one. The Indians, in their second innings, finished the second day on 85/2 with a significant lead of 58. If they can go on from here to take the Wanderers Test, they will only have Thakur to thank for that. Yes, only Thakur, no one else.