Sizzling Shami puts India on top

Sizzling Shami puts India on top

With a first innings lead of 130, India at stumps reached 16 for 1 losing Mayank Agarwal's wicket

South Africa's Kagiso Rabada (L) walks back to the pavilion after his dismissal by India's Mohammed Shami (2nd L) during the third day of the first Test cricket match between South Africa and India at SuperSport Park in Centurion on December 28, 2021. Credit: AFP Photo

For as long as one can remember, India’s batting has drawn crowds and eyeballs while the rest in the side were on the periphery of attention. It’s safe to say, it isn’t so anymore. India’s pace unit has taken over.

While KL Rahul’s 123 was as aesthetic as it was effective in guiding India to 327 all out in the first innings - that’s a batting collapse worth delving into soon enough - India’s pacers looked more at home than the host bowlers. 

Jasprit Bumrah (2/16), Mohammed Siraj (1/45), Mohammed Shami (5/44) and even the medium-paced Shardul Thakur (2/51) made South Africa’s batters look all at sea. They were tight, complemented each other exceptionally well, patient and bowled with a chip on their shoulders.

Also Read | Credit for pace unit's success must go to hardworking players: Shami

In sticking to the basics, they dismissed South Africa to 197 in 62.3 overs, to establish a lead of 130 runs, and then reached 16/1 in 6 overs to extend the lead to 146 runs at stumps, with two days of play still left. 

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the day played out the way it did. The pitch was expected to harden and get faster, but there was some apprehension with the prediction since the second day’s play was washed out with India on a stellar 272 for 3.

Fortunately, the SuperSport Park was drenched in sunlight on the third day, and India’s ‘overnight’ pair of Rahul and Ajinkya Rahane was expected to build on the advantage. They didn’t, and neither did the rest of the batters who came in after. 

India lost seven wickets for 55 runs with Kagiso Rabada (3/72) and Lungi Ngidi (6/71) running riot. What the duo lacked on an opening day, it showed up with on Tuesday. They bowled tight, made the most of the extra bounce on offer and were ruthlessly vociferous.

Also Read | Mohammed Shami becomes 5th Indian fast bowler to claim 200 Test wickets

That doesn’t absolve the Indian batters of their errors. Rahul shouldn’t have pulled the ball when he knew well that the ball was climbing quick, Rahane shouldn’t have looked to drive a short of length ball that early in the day and Rishabh Pant should have played with softer hands having spent only 15 minutes at the crease. 

The lower-order, which has been on-point in matches preceding this one, couldn’t deliver either. But they can’t be blamed for they were up against the fire and the intensity of a Proteas attack that was looking to make up for their lacklustre show from 48 hours ago. 

About an hour into the day, the fabric of the test had in it a dent, and India were no longer in charge. But that only lasted so long. 

India’s pacers have been integral in the team’s success in Australia and in England, and even if they aren’t used as extensively at home, they still manage to keep the pressure to complement the spinners. Here, the conditions were ripe for them to exploit.

And they loved it.

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