NAGPUR: Among objects drawing the attention of newcomers at the VCA Stadium press box are photographs of cricketers. Mostly of foreigners from decades gone by, there are 28 prints. None are of spinners or have any connection with spin bowling. A number of them show fast bowlers in action. Whoever put them up must have been glad on Wednesday to see a speedster emerge protagonist on a surface designed to negate the effectiveness of fast bowlers.
Spin was expected and spin it did on the first day of the third Test, but instead of spinners dominating completely, Morne Morkel demonstrated the virtues of controlled fast bowling. India opting for three spinners, Murali Vijay getting off to a customary good start and South Africa introducing spin from both ends by the 10th over — the day was unfolding along predictable lines until Morkel’s skillful hostility on either side of lunch meant India were unable to drive home the advantage of batting first.
Keeper collecting the new ball under knee, fast bowlers unable to attain lift despite banging the ball in, the occasional delivery causing small clouds of dust off the surface and a turning pitch showing signs of getting worse, indications were clear that Virat Kohli got what he wanted. Partnerships were forming too, until the Morkel burst left India in a scrap for a decent one. Simon Harmer was more successful, but the fast bowler made greater impact by getting the top guns.
Unable to move the new ball, Morkel found reverse swing afterwards to pull India back whenever they looked like gaining upper hand. Vijay and Kohli were well set when they were undone by fast and full deliveries that deceived after pitching. An uncharacteristically extravagant Ajinkya Rahane had no clue to one that came back a long way. Used in short spells, the bowler was threatening to inflict more damage before being forced out with cramps.
The Indians found adjustment of length the most notable part of the fast bowler’s success on a spinner’s paradise. “He was smart to realise that in the first session he was dragging it back, which is his normal length. Morkel was more effective in the second session when he started pushing it forward. The fuller length with reverse swing caused us difficulties,” acknowledged India’s batting coach Sanjay Bangar.
With news filtering out after the day’s play that Morkel is alright, Indian batsmen can expect another round of firing in the second innings. Pace is what they wanted to avoid by making sure the surface doesn’t assist fast bowlers. Fitness permitting, there’s one in the South African ranks willing to challenge them by challenging the odds.