Centurion Test: Mohammed Shami fifer puts India in control
A clear sunny sky over Centurion in less than 24 hours after rain and extremely damp conditions had washed out Day II of the ongoing first Test was a pleasant sight. What wasn’t that pleasant a sight was India, in spite of being in a position of strength with two set batsmen at the crease, losing their remaining seven wickets in just about 90 minutes after play resumed on Day III at the Supersport Park without even reaching the 350-mark.
India’s hearts did skip a beat then, but just as the script has been for Virat Kohli and Co. in several Test matches this year, the bowlers delivered once again, ensuring no after-effects of the early morning collapse and earning their team a substantial first-innings lead of 130.
Spearhead Jasprit Bumrah couldn’t exert much due to a right-ankle sprain, which kept him out of the field for a good part of Tuesday’s second session. But the fragile South African batting line-up also had Mohammed Shami to deal with. And if Shami gets his line and length right, even batsmen well equipped in terms of technique tend to find it tough tackling him.
Making fine use of the seam, Shami (5/44) was relentless with the probing line he bowled right through his spell. Importantly, he was able to exploit the pitch, which seemed to have become livelier after remaining under covers throughout Monday. As many as 18 wickets fell during the day.
Led by Shami, India’s quicks made far better use of the new ball as well as the conditions that helped them knock South Africa over for a paltry 197, after India’s first innings ended at 327.
At stumps on Tuesday, India were 16/1, losing Mayank Agarwal off the bowling of debutant Marco Jansen in the final over of the day.
However, what bodes well for India is their overall lead now being 146, which does put them in a stronger position, considering the nature of the wicket and South Africa’s shaky batting. And of course, the strength of their pace attack. They would only hope the weather doesn’t again come in their way.
For the Proteas, the situation could have been worse for them had KL Rahul not dropped Quinton de Kock when a Mohammed Siraj delivery made the South Africa ’keeper-batsman edge it towards third slip. That was the very first ball De Kock, who later felt discomfort in his back while keeping, had faced.
It was largely due to the 72-run fifth-wicket stand between Temba Bavuma (52) and De Kock (34) that South Africa could go beyond 150.
Coming in as first change, what worked for Shami alongside using the seam brilliantly was his accuracy and discipline. These two aspects have been an issue for him in the past, but not on this occasion.
If the use of the seam earned him the wickets of Keegan Petersen and Aiden Markram, it was his accuracy that created doubts in the set Bavuma’s mind.
Having reached the 200-wicket landmark with the wicket of Kagiso Rabada, this performance from Shami should stand out as he led from the front when India needed him to, particularly when their best bowler, Bumrah, was indisposed.