Last week Shardul Thakur was still batting in the nets with yellow Chennai Super Kings gloves. Washington Sundar didn’t even have his own set of white pads before the Test match. Thakur and Sundar had spent majority of the tour bowling in the nets. The pair had hardly batted in the practice sessions since the start of the Test series. Just a day prior to the Test match, Thakur found a set of white gloves and Sundar borrowed a set of white pads. At the end of day three, the pair had produced one of the resilient partnerships to ensure the final and deciding match still hung in the balance.
Thakur’s Mumbai teammates tell a tale of how he has always wanted to open in a Ranji Trophy match. In fact, it was with the bat that Thakur first got noticed in Mumbai cricket after he plundered six sixes in one over of school cricket. Thakur has always rated himself as a batsman in domestic cricket and today he showcased his talent with the willow in the Test format.
Sundar has always been touted as a batsman that can bowl. During the initial 14-days of quarantine period in Sydney, the team management could be heard from the boundary praising his batting as he smashed the Indian bowlers around the ground at Blacktown Oval. At that time, he was only preparing for the T20 series, but two months later, here he was at the Gabba slaying the Australian bowlers.
Two special half centuries
One special partnership
— BCCI (@BCCI) January 17, 2021
Even before Sundar went into bat, one could see his relaxed mindset as he chatted and joked with the support staff and Prithvi Shaw in the dugout. When Mayank Agarwal succumbed to rash shot, Sundar literally sprinted to the middle with such authority that it seemed like he was playing in his 50th match. If there were nerves he didn’t show it. Whether it was Mitchell Starc, Josh Hazlewood, Pat Cummins or Nathan Lyon, Sundar just played the ball and not the bowler.
Couple of firm drives down the ground at the start of the innings even had Ricky Ponting in the commentary box comparing him to Yuvraj Singh. This was a confident young man, unfazed about playing the Australian bowling on a bouncy Gabba pitch.
Thakur walked into the centre with a few skips and then shadow practiced his front foot defence. Two balls later, Thakur had pulled Cummins over square leg for a six to open his account. Many felt that Thakur was ready to entertain with a few big hits, but with each ball, he showcased perfect defence. He left the ball with intent and waited for the full balls which he timed sweetly down the ground.
With each ball the partnership blossomed. Australian fielders started to wilt and the bowlers started to tire. But even after facing 30-odd balls, both Sundar and Thakur continued to treat each ball on merit. In between the pair copped blows to the body. It was brave, courageous and also disciplined batting. It was uncharacteristic of No 7 and No 8 especially against a bowling unit that is the best in the world.
Australia tried the two-card trick of pushing Thakur back with a series of short balls and then throwing a wide half-volley, but he was patient enough to leave it. Thakur exhibited beautiful technique as he played the ball right under his eyes and upper cut the short balls with plenty of venom. Lyon had three men stationed on the leg-side boundary hoping that Thakur would try to clear the ropes, but he never took the bait. This was a mature cricketer that knew what the team required. He only took on the off-spinner once and that was to bring up his half century.
Sundar on the other hand used his height to ride the bounce of the Gabba pitch. His back foot defence was straight out of a textbook. Every time the ball zeroed in on his pads, he flicked elegantly and in between picked up singles to ensure the strike was rotated.
The Australians tried each trick in the book to rattle Sundar and Thakur. There were even few words exchanged to disturb their concentration. “They were trying to have a conversation with me but I was not replying. I just replied once or twice, even if they were trying to sledge me, I did not hear, I just played on” Thakur told reporters after his epic knock.
This was a partnership that Australia as a nation will remember for a long time. Two players playing in their first and second match respectively had withstood every challenge thrown at them.
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At close, Zimbabwe were 133-5 with Williams not out on 54 and Ryan Burl on eight not out. They lead by two runs with five wickets intact on a day that saw 15 wickets fall.
Rahane additionally shed his reticence when asked to respond to the criticism from former England players that the pitches have not been ideal
The English captain however, did not specify the nature of the illness but said he has a full squad to choose from.