Shardul Thakur keeps India in contention with attacking half-century

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London, Sep 2 (IANS) After a predominantly dull day, it was luminous at The Oval after the Tea break on the first day of the fourth Test between India and England.

But Shardul Thakur outshone the sun with the second-fastest half-century by an Indian in England. The distinction of the fastest belongs to Kapil Dev. Thakur’s innings kept India in the reckoning in a match in which the ball will continue to wobble.

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Anyone who watched Thakur bat in his Test debut at Brisbane earlier this year would have realised that he has the potential with the willow.

He walked to the crease with India disintegrating rapidly at 117 for six. He drove off the frontfoot and backfoot with real power. He pulled and flicked with equal ferocity. He was dropped by wicket-keeper Jonny Bairstow just before his 50. Ultimately, he was trapped lbw by Chris Woakes, who marked a notable return to Test cricket after an injury layoff.

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Thakur’s aggression and defiance when the chips were down and the ball was still swinging was refreshing. Indeed, it begs the question as to why he wasn’t chosen to play in the last Test at Headingley, which ended in disaster for the visitors.

Having accounted himself promisingly with the limited opportunity he was granted in the first Test at Trent Bridge, he ought to have been automatically recalled after missing the 2nd encounter at Lord’s due to insufficient fitness.

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Since he is the only Indian bowler in the touring party who essentially moves the ball in the air, he could have been entrusted with the new ball. This is a trick captain Virat Kohli has continually been missing in this series. Thakur’s outswing starting from off and middle stumps has the potential to trouble right-handers.

The bigger question is: Should Rishab Pant have been retained in the XI? The fact is he was; and he once again perished to an abominable stroke given the conditions and circumstances. He stepped out to Woakes to sky the ball to mid-off. This is not the first time he has exited flailing his bat inappropriately.

In four Tests in England this summer, Pant has indicated little understanding of what is required of him as a batsman. Even after being demoted in the batting order and dropped at slip after pushing at a delivery with hard hands, he was not prepared to discipline himself. More importantly, in terms of technique to tackle deviation in the air and off the wicket, he has shown little improvement or an inclination to learn.

Wriddhiman Saha is at least unlikely to irresponsibly throw his wicket. And he is probably the best wicketkeeper in the world at the present juncture, though Pant’s work with the gloves, albeit without having to stand up to Ravichandran Ashwin, is better now than what it used to be.

And the third question. Why is Ashwin, an all-weather bowler, arguably the pre-eminent spinner in world cricket today, still not in the final line-up?

Slow bowling all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja was, incidentally, promoted to number five to blunt the English bowlers with a lefthander-righthander combination, but the ploy didn’t succeed.

The playing XI should be the skipper’s prerogative. But he has to be prepared to sink or swim with his call.

(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)



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