Fifth Shamistar: Indian pacer shines with a five-wicket burst on spin-friendly track
CHENNAI: As they headed back to their hotel on Saturday evening, India were unsure whether the pitch at YS Rajasekhara Reddy ACA-VDCA Stadium would deteriorate overnight.
Unlike the first two days of their first Test against South Africa, it had started to turn. But it was still not an easy wicket for spinners. It was getting slower, and they wouldn’t be able to roll over South Africa without a hardball.
In the first four days, pacers from both teams had taken only four wickets. Mohammed Shami was the only one who without any. While many expected Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin to play a bigger role on Day 5, Shami would turn out to be India’s man on Sunday. A fifer that set up a massive 203-run.
Those who had such premonitions had reasons. Shami’s figures in the first and second innings are almost identical: 78 wickets to 80. But there are a few drastic differences hidden in those numbers. While those 78 wickets have arrived at every 60.6 balls, the other 80 have done so at 41.4. Four out of his five fifers have also come in the second innings. That’s enough to convey the story of how effective Shami has been for India at the business end of Tests, when pitches start to disintegrate and tend to offer uneven bounce.
“He knows how to bowl on these pitches,” said Rohit Sharma. “Gets reverse swing straight into play once he knows there is some help on offer. It is not easy to bowl when the ball is reversing. You need to pitch it in the right area, and make sure that the ball is just around the off stump so that it hits the stumps. He has mastered that art now, bowling with the old ball and getting it to reverse.”
India had done their homework on Saturday, studying the areas where the odd ball kept low. It happened to be around good length, a zone that Shami hones in on naturally. It was not a surprise to see him begin with Ashwin on Sunday.
Ashwin set the day going, taking care of Theunis de Bruyn. Temba Bavuma had already made the mistake of playing from the crease in the first innings. Aiden Markram showed that to Bavuma in the two balls he faced off that over, pressing forward and defending. But Bavuma chose to stay put. And Shami landed it in one of those areas. It hit a crack, kept low, snuck in, and stumps were clattered.
In the time Shami took a breather, Ishant kept it tight. Markram and Faf du Plessis seemed settled. They were pressing forward as much as they could.
Then Shami came back. On a pitch where other pacers were unable to hit the right length, he knew what he had to do. He was not looking to find the edge, but to make batsmen play. He targetted the stumps with length balls, angling in and shaping it away at times.
The first three balls of his second spell again landed on length. Du Plessis played the first and third, leaving alone the second which shaped away. He drove the fourth to the fence.The fifth seemed like the second; Du Plessis shouldered arms. But this came back, stayed low and took the off-stump.
Markram realised how this pitch was behaving. But instead of shielding Quinton de Kock from Shami, he exposed him; perhaps that first-innings ton made him do so.
But like Bavuma, De Kock played from the crease. Shami landed it right again. Another off-stump uprooted. In just an hour, Proteas were already five down. And Jadeja was at his darty, subcontintental best to perform the final rites.
“These type of conditions pretty ideal for him. He makes them play all the balls. It is tough for batsmen on this particular pitch, where the ball was misbehaving from cracks.”