Umesh Yadav ran in from the MS Dhoni Pavilion End and bowled a fullish delivery to Faf du Plessis. The ball swerved in, landed on the seam and then moved away to hit the top of off stump. It was a bail-trimmer; the ball of the Test series yet by a distance. Du Plessis stood in disbelief for a moment before walking back. It was the fifth ball of the day. The third day’s play had a cracking start.
Read | 24 wickets, 9 bowled, 3 lbws
When the afternoon winked in, the sun started playing hide-and-seek. South Africa were following on after being bowled out for 162 in their first innings and were hardly doing any better at their second dig, with four wickets down for 26 runs. Yadav once again ran in from the MS Dhoni Pavilion End, made one rear off a length and the ball hit Dean Elgar on the helmet. The South Africa opener was floored, dazed and retired hurt. Concussion substitute Theunis de Bruyn had to be called in. Yadav had bounced out Quinton de Kock in the first innings. But it was a wearing third day pitch. It was also the JSCA Stadium in Ranchi, not the WACA or Kingsmead.
In today’s context, Dhoni’s name wasn’t relevant. Just that it served a reminder that he had once berated Yadav for being wayward. Of course, there was merit in his criticism. At the same time, Dhoni, a conservative Test captain, preferred line and length over raw pace. Under Virat Kohli, the Indian fast bowlers have the licence to go flat out. Yadav wouldn’t have played this Test series if Jasprit Bumrah were fit. After six wickets in the second Test in Pune, the Vidarbha fast bowler already has five here and have the visitors reeling at 132/8 in their second innings. Save a miracle, they will succumb to another innings defeat. From the Indian fast bowlers’ perspective, though, there are still a couple of wickets on offer and they would like to add them to their tally. Collectively they have already accounted for 26 scalps, compared to 10 by their South Africa counterparts.
Take Mohammed Shami. In Indian conditions, on mostly batting-friendly pitches, he already has 13 wickets from three Tests at an average of 14.76. Ravindra Jadeja, too, has 13, while Ravi Ashwin tops the list with 15. But their respective averages are 30.69 and 25.26. Indian fast bowling making a serious impact has become the new normal. But on pitches, not tailor-made for them, Shami and company have intimidated the South African batting.
Zubayr Hamza, who counter-attacked and top-scored (62) for the Saffers in the first innings, refused to admit the fear factor. “I wouldn’t say intimidated... I would say that with the new ball, they just forced us to play more. They bowled attacking lines,” Hamza said after the day’s play.
Uncertain and unsure
The South African batters were uncertain facing the Indian quicks. Their mode of dismissals attested it. De Kock got a length ball from Yadav in the second innings. The makeshift Test opener made a tentative forward movement and tried to defend it, playing inside the line . His off stump went flying. In the next over, Shami bowled a good length delivery to Hamza. It straightened a bit after pitching, but the batsman was late on the shot and was castled. Even du Plessis reviewed a leg before decision that looked plumb. The ball kept low, but the South Africa captain, too, was a touch late on the shot. He wasted a review. Temba Bavuma was done in by an outswinger from Shami, which he could have left. He fished at it instead and was out caught behind. And after Elgar’s head injury, the visitors seemed to have raised the white flag.
Batsmen are protected from head to toe these days. The number of bouncers per over are restricted to two only. Beamers are not allowed. It has become increasingly difficult for the fast bowlers to scare the batsmen with their pace. Mitchell Johnson did it to England during the 2013-14 Ashes Down Under. In the recently concluded Ashes in England, Archer at times got big on the England batters. But doing it on Indian pitches requires exceptional skill and control. India at the moment are revelling in an all-weather fast bowling group, even without their x-factor; Bumrah.
At times, they offered a throwback to the Caribbean pace battery of the 1970s and ‘80s. Clive Lloyd’s quicks used to make the pitch factor redundant. The way Shami and Umesh — Ishant Sharma deserves an honourable mention — bowled in this series, a comparison with the West Indies greats probably won’t be too far-fetched. Back then, the fast bowlers had the advantage of bowling six bouncers in an over. They could bowl beamers unchecked. Protective gears were primitive compared to what the batters use now. From that point of view, fast bowlers playing the lead in a Test series win against South Africa — a country where batsmen learn their cricket on fast and bouncy pitches — has made the success even more special.
Last week, while talking to this paper, former South Africa fast bowler Fanie de Villiers was stressing on the fact that how Indian cricket has been benefiting from having a pool of talented fast bowlers. “You (India) have many, while we are losing players (for different reasons),” he had said. Yadav coming into the team and making an instant impact spoke volumes for India’s fast bowling bench strength. And there are young guns like Navdeep Saini, Khaleel Ahmed and Mohammed Siraj waiting in the wings — all capable of bowling well past 140kph. On Tuesday, when India will wrap up South Africa’s second innings to secure a 3-0 clean sweep, it will be time to propose a toast to the fast bowlers.
PS: The ball that debutant left-arm spinner Shahbaz Nadeem bowled to dismiss Bavuma in the first innings today was a connoisseur’s delight. It beat the batsman in the air, pitched around middle and leg and turned past the outside edge to ‘keeper Wriddhiman Saha, who whipped the bails off. Nadeem was offering namaz at his Kolkata residence, when he got the call-up for this Test as the injured Kuldeep Yadav’s replacement. And his maiden Test scalp wowed the country’s greatest left-arm spinner.
“What a splendid 1st Test wkt fr #Nadeem...he did #Bavuma twice..in the air..& then off the pitch...excellent spectacle..!! Well done Nadeem..!!” tweetedBishan Bedi.