Shardul Thakur leads India fightback to leave honours even against England

·4-min read
Virat Kohli celebrates the late wicket of Joe Root (Getty Images)
Virat Kohli celebrates the late wicket of Joe Root (Getty Images)

Shortly after tea on a sensational opening day of the Fourth Test against India, when another skittish innings from Rishabh Pant ended with another poor shot, England were in dreamland.

Having asked India to bat, they had removed their shuffled top seven for just 127. Their battery of four seamers were all threatening. Having levelled things up at Headingley, the series was fizzing in their direction.

Over the next 90 minutes, little went to plan, and India ended the day in charge. The recalled No8, Shardul Thakur, launched a scintillating counter-attack, making 57 from 36 balls to carry India to 191.

Although they lost their final three wickets for one run when Thakur was dismissed, Jasprit Bumrah picked off both England’s openers in his second over. At five for two, Joe Root was joining a new No3 much earlier than England planned.

Root looked in supreme touch once more, but was dismissed for 21, his lowest score of the series by stumps, which England reached on 53 for three. Umesh Yadav’s beautiful nip-backer left the game right in the balance at the end of a 13-wicket day. England bat deep, and are just 138 behind on a wicket that should be good for batting.

England had done a lot right – but let a strong position slip. India, meanwhile, had spent the day making strange decisions. Most notable related to their spin-bowling all-rounders. Ravichandran Ashwin, remarkably, was omitted for the fourth match in a row. Ravi Jadeja, listed below Thakur at No8, appeared at No5, with India 39 for three. It appeared to show a camp beset by muddled thinking. They are a resilient bunch. Do not write them off.

Both captains would have bowled if they won the toss. Root was the lucky skipper but for the opening half an hour, Jimmy Anderson went looking for wickets with a very full length, and was punished, especially by KL Rahul on the drive.

After four overs for 20, Root called on Chris Woakes, playing his first competitive red-ball match for more than a year. He was immediately on the money and a little lift saw Rohit Sharma caught behind in his opening over. He and the excellent Ollie Robinson bowled seven successive maidens. The last of them brought the wicket of Rahul lbw, and a review could not save him.

Out came Virat Kohli, bristling, so Root recalled Anderson, at the opposite end. He could not prise out Kohli – whose cover-driving was immense – but he picked up Cheteshwar Pujara for the fourth time in four first innings, all for single figures. It was a beauty, that Pujara could only feather behind. With Jadeja surprisingly keeping Kohli company, India made it to lunch three down.

After the break, Root dropped a sharp chance off Kohli at slip, amid some confusion over whether it was his catch or Rory Burns’, the new man at second. The skipper made up for it with a fine take to dismiss Jadeja off Woakes. Robinson picked up Kohli, shortly after he had reached a spunky half-century, then Craig Overton had Ajinkya Rahane caught at third slip by Moeen Ali. England had done the hard yards, even before Pant – who is batting brainlessly, and had already been dropped – skied Woakes to deep mid-off.

Thakur, the head of a long tail, sensed an opportunity to tee off. He hoyed superb sixes off Woakes, Overton and Robinson, and flayed fours through the off and legside. Yadav, also recalled, provided excellent company, with their stand worth 63. Jonny Bairstow dropped Thakur down the legside as England cut a slightly dispelled figure, so much so that Root moved out of the slips to provide counsel to his bowlers.

When Thakur was pinned lbw on review, becoming Woakes’ fourth wicket, things happened in a hurry. Bumrah was run out without facing by Burns, who was gathering Overton’s drop (England’s fourth) of Yadav, who then edged to Bairstow. India were all out for 191 – much more than England had once hoped, much less than they had recently feared.

Bumrah made a sensational start, forcing Burns to play on and then tempting Haseeb Hameed into an injudicious flay for his second duck of the series. Root was in early and, by stumps, India had their man, bowled through the gate by a beauty. A thrilling series had continued apace.

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