Shami serves lethal cocktail of length, seam and pace
Leaving the ball only to see his off-stump blasted out of the turf, Faf du Plessis cut a silly figure. But his dismissal was as much as about his own indiscretion as his executioner Mohammed Shami’s skill to purchase lethal seam movement.
Generally, bowlers striving for reverse swing probe a fuller length in search of the exaggerated late inward movement. But Shami prefers to bowl more back-of-length, not a conventional reverse-swing method, the logic being the fuller you bowl, the more exaggerated the movement could be. But he has mastered the art of getting seam movement from that length off the old ball—brought about by a combination of seam position, supple wrists, fluid release and relentless practice — which naturally befuddles batsmen. With the length that he hits, firstly, they don’t expect it to tail in wickedly. Secondly, even if it does, they assume it would sail over the stumps, even if Shami is not the tallest fast bowler around. That kind of length compulsively baits batsmen into thinking traditionally. Thirdly, they don’t expect it to scurry through. He might not be devastatingly quick, but quick enough to not allow batsmen the extra milliseconds to readjust. The South African captain, thus, was undone by all three peculiarities of Shami —length, movement and pace. The delivery pitched at least a couple of yards wide off his stumps, then bent back devilishly and all du Plessis could do was to watch the ball wreck his stumps.
A stroke of indiscretion
Du Plessis was forewarned. He had seen his colleague Temba Bavuma lose his stumps, groping at a nip-backer from the crease, neither fully forward not entirely backward. Experienced as he is, he might have been surely aware of Shami’s old-ball tricks as well as the wisdom that fifth-day surfaces in the subcontinent tend to have variable bounce. But he couldn’t curb his instincts. On South African surfaces, rather on most surfaces around the world, he could trust the bounce and leave the back-of-length deliveries. He could have at least covered the movement, but that’s the illusion Shami conjures up with his length.