Shardul Thakur, the India paceman, went for 27 runs in his first over of the tri-nation Twenty20 Nidahas Trophy match against Sri Lanka on March 6. On Monday (March 12), Thakur’s T20I career-best haul of 4 for 27 that restricted Sri Lanka to 152 for 9, turned out to be a sweet revenge.

Although Thakur pulled things back later in the opening game, the early assault had ensured Sri Lanka ended their seven-match losing streak with a five-wicket win against India. On Monday, he was instrumental in applying the brakes to Sri Lanka’s innings that was threatening to reach a total in the region of 180.

India are without Jasprit Bumrah, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya in the series, and Thakur, who is used to filling big shoes from his Mumbai cricket days, stepped up admirably.

“I have told one thing before also, I love challenges,” said Thakur. “I am taking it as a challenge. When other senior bowlers are missing from the team, I have to step up.

“I have done this previously for whichever teams I have played for. In the absence of Zaheer Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni and Ajit Agarkar when I was playing for Mumbai, I had to step up and fit in that role. When senior bowlers are rested, it’s the same situation, I’ve to step in and lead the pace attack.”

Thisara Perera began with consecutive sixes off his first two deliveries off Washington Sundar, but Thakur exploited the knuckle delivery during his spell to stem the onslaught.

“[Zaheer] started it actually, but I didn’t watch much of his videos,” Thakur said of his knuckle ball. “I always knew what the grip was, and then I learned it on my own.

“I’ve been practicing it for a long time. It hasn’t come easy. Whenever I found time to bowl with the white ball while playing domestic cricket, I used to try the knuckle ball. I tried it in the nets. Probably for two years I’ve been practicing it now.”

At 108 for 2 in 12 overs, Sri Lanka looked set for a big score on an excellent batting strip. But Thakur dismissed Perera for 15 and with Yuzvendra Chahal getting rid of Kusal Mendis for 55, Sri Lanka managed just 45 runs in the next seven overs in a match that was reduced to 19 overs a side due to rain.

“The way Sri Lanka were going, probably they would have got around 165-170 runs,” felt Thakur. “But we got Kusal out, he was going hard at our bowlers, then Thisara came and hit a few sixes and fours, but I got him out. We got those crucial wickets and were able to restrict them and cut down 20 runs.”

Thakur’s 1 for 25 in the previous game also helped India restrict Bangladesh to a modest 139 for 8. He went to add that the loss in first game against Sri Lanka was an eye-opener for India.

“If you see, in T20 cricket, you have to be ready for surprises. I thought the first game was a surprise and an eye-opener for us. I got hit for 27 runs, there were some other overs that went for 15 runs. But I feel that the game against Bangladesh and in this game, we came back strongly and executed our plans better.”

Thakur also praised Washington, who continued his habit of bowling an economical spell in the PowerPlay overs and struck at crucial times to end with 2 for 21. “He varies his pace very interestingly, he’s got good pace variation,” Thakur said. “He also tries to spin the ball at times, sometimes he pushes through the air, it’s very amazing to see his pace variations. That’s the key for him.”

India will take on Bangladesh on Wednesday and a win will seal their spot in the final.