Double act seals the deal for India
Sunday morning evoked some old memories. For India, it was all sunshine but hardly bright for South Africa, who looked vulnerable again on Indian pitches.
Spin had condemned the Proteas to a 3-0 series loss on the 2015 tour, although the first four days of the first Test here had showed South Africa were determined to put up a resistance. All that grit crumbled in the face of an attacking line adopted by the Indian bowlers on the final day’s pitch with enough variable bounce to sow doubts in the minds of batsmen.
The visitors resumed their second innings on 11/1, survival the only intention after India set a 395-run target. By the time the teams left for lunch, South Africa were reeling at 117/8.
Dane Piedt and debutant Senuran Muthusamy put up a fight with a 91-run stand for the ninth wicket, but it only delayed the defeat with the hosts completing a 203-run win after the break. India are 1-0 up in the three-match series.
Mohammed Shami (5/35) made the most of the proceedings with his fifth five-wicket haul while Ravindra Jadeja claimed 4/87 to dash even remote hopes of South Africa escaping with a draw.
Cheteshwar Pujara had spoken about the cracks after the fourth day’s play and how the double paced pitch could trouble the batsmen. All of that came into play as the Proteas batsmen caved in under pressure.
Ravichandran Ashwin dealt the first blow in the second over when his delivery outside off-stump turned sharply into No. 3 Theunis de Bruyn, who attempted a cut and got bowled. The wicket was the off-spinner’s 350th, making him the joint fastest to the landmark in his 66th Test by equalling Muttiah Muralitharan.
Any last day pitch in India is tough to bat on, but the challenge in Vizag did not come on account of being a rank turner. Rather the slow pitch demanded patience and required the Proteas top order to dig deep into their experience.
It was somehow beyond Faf du Plessis and Co.
The next over after de Bruyn’s dismissal, Shami struck. His length ball on off-stump to Temba Bavuma went straight and kept rather low. The batsman, who had shaped to defend, was unable to bring his bat down and was bowled.
“This is not Adelaide. The South African batsmen should realise this is India and the ball will keep low,” former South Africa skipper Graeme Smith bristled in the commentators’ box.
Indeed, the low bounce was evident from the way it played on Saturday, but it claimed some more victims in the first session. Opener Aiden Markram dug in and tried to put up resistance with captain du Plessis. He did edge deliveries but they mostly kept low and found the gaps.
But when the pitch did not get the batsmen, the brilliance of the bowlers did. Like the beauty from Shami that castled du Plessis.
He had been patient to leave the outgoing deliveries, watching the ball closely. But on this occasion, Shami’s delivery pitched wide of off-stump and nipped back, keeping low. Du Plessis had raised his arms to let the ball go through, and was stunned as it hit the stumps.
“We’ve seen him (Shami) in these conditions, not just today but earlier also. I still remember our debut together in Kolkata where the pitch was not exactly like this but on day four and five was slightly lower and slower.
“He knows how to bowl on these pitches. Shami gets reverse swing straight into play once he knows there is some help on offer. It is not easy to bowl when reverse is happening. You need to pitch in the right areas, make sure the ball is just around the off-stump and it comes and hits middle. He has mastered that art now, bowling with the old ball and getting it to reverse,” Rohit Sharma, the Man-of-the-Match for his twin centuries, said after the match.
That was not all as Shami produced another stunner in his next over.
This time Quinton de Kock was the victim. The delivery pitched and nipped in a bit, also keeping a touch low.
De Kock pushed forward and the ball sneaked in between bat and pad and rattled the stumps. Four of his five victims were bowled. South Africa were 60/5 when de Kock fell and the hosts sniffed a quick victory.
If Shami opened the floodgates, Ravindra Jadeja delivered even rapid punches as he scalped three in one over.
The first was a stunner to end Markram’s resistance. The opener went for a lofted shot, but the delivery came slow off the surface, messing his timing. And the best fielder in this Indian side leapt high to take the left-handed return catch.
Two balls later, Jadeja got his next when Vernon Philander was trapped leg before trying to flick. The next ball, Keshav Maharaj fell in similar fashion. South Africa at 70/8 were staring down the barrel.
Yet the best knock of South Africa was yet to come. Piedt and debutant all-rounder Muthusamy combined to frustrate the Indian bowlers. While the latter was a picture of concentration, Piedt played aggressively. He went after every delivery he could, even extending the record for most sixes in a Test, hitting the 36th.
The spinners could not extract much from the pitch as the ninth wicket pair carried on. From 70/8, South Africa reached 117/8 at lunch, though a fight back looked remote. They frustrated India, and Piedt reached his half-century in 86 balls.
It was Shami again who broke the resistance. His fuller delivery took the inside edge of Piedt, who went for a cover drive, and broke his stump. He completed the fifer when last man Kagiso Rabada edged to wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha.
“It’s difficult to bowl on such a wicket because it was getting slower. So the plan was to bowl at the stumps. Jaddu and Ash bowled well. We knew the variable bounce and reverse swing would help us in the second innings. So we tried to attack the stumps. It was important to get the top batters out as early as possible,” Shami said.