In a sense they were like long lost friends. It had been a year since they last shared the new ball and both Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan had faced more lows than highs through 2013. Justifiably, going into this Test, the pupil and master had to answer lost of questions, some of them uppermost on their minds.
Led by Ishant, and Zaheer’s sharp bowling and mentoring, India’s pace pack had made a statement on Thursday. But the job still not done. But on Friday morning, there was no doubt who would be skipper MS Dhoni’s spearheads, that despite Mohammed Shami having done equally well. And Zaheer and Ishant did the job pretty quickly, wiping out South Africa’s tail.
Lack of confidence
Before the series began, India’s pace attack had been the main worry. Some former players were predicting India’s pacemen can’t hold a candle to the hosts’ formidable bowling, even on helpful South African tracks. But India’s pacers, some of the most under-estimated in world cricket, do love to su
They had jolted the Proteas on the 2006-07 and 2010-11 tours as well. Zaheer was integral to those attacks too. His guile and S Sreesanth’s relentless effort stood out on both the series.
Zaheer’s return, though a big positive, was not expected to be defining at the age of 35. Anil Kumble, for one, had said that for India to do well, Zaheer shouldn’t let up on intensity. Zaheer showed plenty of that, even if the challenge he threw to Graeme Smith had bordered on arrogance. “I just have to turn up,” he had joked, when asked if he was ready to get the SA skipper.
He wasn’t just lean; he was mean, and on the prowl. Even Zaheer may struggle to remember the last time he bowled 26 overs in an innings with the same intensity.
Former South Africa fast bowler, Fanie de Villiers, had pointed out weaknesses in South Africa’s bowling on Wednesday, particularly Dale Steyn not making the batsmen play enough. It was blasphemy, against the world’s No 1 bowler. But Fanie was proved right. “You guys have done your homework and made the South Africa batsmen play.”
The India pace trio made South Africa batsmen play 39 per cent of their deliveries. For South Africa, the figure was just 27 per cent after the first innings. India’s pacemen kept threatening even the well-settled Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla.
The Proteas, having held India by the scruff of the neck on Day One, let Virat Kohli off the hook. Swing was also a major factor. India were brilliant, moving the ball in the air and off the pitch.
Both Zaheer and Ishant have had their lows this year. And Dhoni had found options in Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami.
But then, cricket is full of uncertainties. Even the ones who said “India should look beyond Zaheer” would be gladdened by the fact that the old warrior showed he still had the desire to succeed burning in him, and the determination to sign off his career on a high.