A question of attitude: Mohammad Shami’s success exposed South Africa’s flaw in the first Test

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Author 2019-10-07 12:04:41

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It is difficult to say what Mohammad Shami does differently in the second innings.

According to CricViz, he draws almost a similar number of false shots in both innings — 22.4% of his deliveries in the first innings, and 23.5% in the second innings.

His line doesn’t change too much either. He tends to attack the stumps in the first innings as well as the second innings. Since the start of 2018, no bowler around the world would have had a higher percentage of deliveries hitting the stumps than Shami’s 14.8%.

But while many other good bowlers tend to have similar numbers regardless of the innings they are bowling — Shami’s numbers are radically different in the second innings. Since 2018 began, he averages 37.56 in the first innings but he suddenly transforms into a world-class bowler who averages 17.70 in the second.

Top bowling averages in 1st and 2nd innings

Bowler First innings average Second Innings average
Pat Cummins 24.00 14.22
Kagiso Rabada 21.87 22.60
Jasprit Bumrah 19.09 19.41
Ishant Sharma 21.51 19.87
Trent Boult 20.54 26.52
Jason Holder 13.74 16.23
Mohammad Shami 37.56 17.70
Tim Southee 16.21 33.93

So if you are looking for a proper cricketing reason as to why Shami suddenly finds wickets in the second innings, then there is honestly no clear answer. He does what he does and the cricketing gods smile at him.

So what can we put this down to? Perhaps one has to put this down to one of the intangibles: attitude.

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By now, Shami should be aware of his record in the second innings. And it would perhaps be fair to say that he seemed a little lethargic in the first and all pumped up in the second at Visakhapatnam. So is it the attitude that changes things?

Kohli, unlike Mahendra Singh Dhoni, almost never employs his bowlers in a holding role. He expects them to be tight but, at all times, he also expects them to take wickets.

And unlike South Africa, who chose to employ Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander in largely defensive roles, Kohli allowed Shami to go out there and express himself.

“It’s all about the attitude. If the fast bowlers step out on the field thinking spinners are going to do all the work, then it doesn’t do any justice to them playing in the XI,” said Kohli.

“I think the attitude and the mindset they have created for themselves, it’s been outstanding in the last two years. Even in India, they are looking to make a contribution. It’s not like it’s hot and humid and they give up. They would ask for shorter spells so that they can give 100%, which is the communication that’s required from both ends. I think they have been brilliant in terms of doing that for the team,” said the Indian captain.

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Kohli added: “You see guys like Shami, Ishant [Sharma], Jasprit [Bumrah] recently and Umesh [Yadav] in the past as well doing those important things in the game, which we want them to do. Even a couple of wickets in a spell help the spinners - who might be dominating from the other end - to get a bit of a breather. So it’s all about wanting to make a play for the team that’s setting them [the pacers] apart even when the conditions are difficult.”

SA skipper Du Plessis, on the other hand, seemed to be convinced that his pacemen were to be used in a defensive role.

“The seamers were mostly doing a holding job in this game up until today,” du Plessis said in the post-match chat.

It was a flawed approach because both his paceman are of a far higher quality than the spinners he has at his disposal. We have seen Australia come to India and play with just one spinner at times because they wanted to go into the match with their best bowlers. South African paceman Dale Steyn’s record in India is superb and du Plessis should have been aware of that too.

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If Du Plessis had allowed Rabada and Philander to attack, as Kohli gave Ishant and Shami full freedom to, who knows we might have had an even more interesting game on our hands.

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A wearing pitch makes batting difficult regardless of who the bowler is. In the past, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis attacked the stumps with relish and now Shami is doing that. It almost is a pity that Rabada was never quite let loose in the same way.

If anything, there is no shame in learning from Shami – for he handed out a lesson to South Africa and their skipper in particular.

For now, India will celebrate Shami and his second innings success while South Africa will head to Pune with a number of ‘what ifs’ on their mind.

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