India seamer Shardul Thakur produced career-best bowling figures of 7-61 to emerge as the unlikely bowling hero for India in the second Test against South Africa on Tuesday.
On a day once again dominated by bowlers, it was the unheralded Thakur who brought India back into the match, helping dismiss South Africa for 229 in reply to India's 202 at the Wanderers in Johannesburg.
India had limited bowling resources throughout the day after fast bowler Mohammed Siraj's hamstring injury — picked up on the opening day — restricted his quota of overs and effectiveness.
It looked like South Africa would capitalise on the injury to India's frontline quick, with Keegan Petersen (62) and then Temba Bavuma (51) looking to dominate on a pitch with variable bounce.
But it was the golden arm of Thakur that kept India in the contest. Thakur got the breakthrough early when he had captain Dean Elgar caught behind for 28 after the batsman had survived a hostile first hour from Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami.
Petersen — who displayed the best technique of all batsmen in the match — brought up his first Test half century but then followed his captain back to the dressing room when he was caught in the slips off Thakur for 62.
Rassie van der Dussen went cheaply off the last ball of the first session — caught behind off Thakur by the wicketkeeper. However, television replays suggested the ball might have fallen short before being claimed by Rishabh Pant. But the umpires decided there was no conclusive evidence that the catch fell short and the dismissal stood.
Bavuma and Kyle Verreyne put on a 60-run partnership after lunch before the latter was trapped lbw for 21 by the bowler of the day. Thakur, 30, then bagged his fifth wicket when he had Bavuma caught down the leg side.
The seamer picked up the final wicket of Lungi Ngidi to finish with the best return by an Indian bowler in a Test against South Africa.
The visiting batsmen then went on the attack in the final 20 overs of the day, racing to 85-2 to earn a valuable 58-run lead on a pitch where extreme variable bounce resulted in almost every batsmen getting hit.
Cheteshwar Pujara (35) and Ajinkya Rahane (11) were together at stumps, and now face the task of not only fortifying India's lead but also their vulnerable spots in the batting line-up.