India were reeling at 127/6 on day one of the fourth Test match versus England at The Oval, and out walked Shardul Thakur with his usual confident stride o the middle. He was trying to play the second fiddle role and played defensively as long as Rishabh Pant was there with him. But the wicketkeeper-batsman couldn’t last long and got out without a further run added.
Shardul, who has become quite popular among netizens as ‘Lord Shardul’, unleashed his batting prowess after Pant’s wicket with a couple of scorching straight drives followed by some pull shots. In his own style, the allrounder almost single-handedly took India to a respectable 191 which could easily have been in the vicinity of 140-150. His second Test fifty needed just 31 deliveries, which is the second-fastest by an Indian in Test cricket and featured six fours and three sixes.
Shardul’s game-changing knock of 57 off 36 balls in the final session on day one changed the complexion of the Test. Thereon, when England batted, he did not quite find the same spark with the ball but did provide India a breakthrough when Ollie Pope, the highest scorer of the innings with 81, dragged onto his stumps.
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In the second innings, with India well ahead but starting to wobble, Shardul once again showed his abilities with the bat. India had lost three quick wickets in the middle with a lead of 213 when he walked out to bat. Along with Pant, Shardul stitched together a crucial 100-run stand. He made 60 off 72 balls and helped India’s lead past the 300-run mark.
On a dry Oval surface, and seeing how he had bowled in England’s first innings, you could have assumed that Shardul may not have had much left to do in the Test. England’s openers Rory Burns and Haseeb Hameed batted unbeaten to stumps on day four and on the fifth morning, had extended their stand past 100 when Virat Kohli tossed the ball to Shardul. With a belated entry, he snapped the threatening stand in his first over when he got the ball to angle away from the left-handed Burns on a flat surface and found the outside edge through to Pant.
Shardul, at 29, is not an express fast bowler like a Jasprit Bumrah but he was still able to get some purchase out of that pitch. Late in the day when the new ball was due, Kohli decided not to take it and called on Shardul again. England were 181/6 when he came back for his second spell of the innings and with the first ball itself, Shardul ensured that the hosts were going 2-1 down in the series. The wicket of Joe Root was the final nail in the coffin and England could only survive about 12 overs after his dismissal.
Rohit Sharma may have been adjudged Man of the Match for his superb century but Shardul’s all-round contribution in the 157-run win was no less than a match-winning performance.
The nickname ‘Lord Shardul’ started as meme material because there was a time when Shardul used to concede a lot of runs in the IPL and for India also at the start of his career. But seeing his all-round performance at The Gabba earlier this year and now in England, there is nothing condescending about that title anymore.