First Test: India press fast forward as pacers set tone at Centurion

With one full day lost to rain and the forecast not looking good for Day 5, for India to force a result, a lot depended on how the events unfolded on Day Three.

Published: 29th December 2021 09:23 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th December 2021 09:23 AM   |  A+A-

India's bowler Mohammed Shami, facing camera, celebrates with teammates after dismissing South Africa's batsman Keegan Petersen for 15 runs. (Photo | AP)

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  At the end of an extraordinary day where 18 wickets fell for 268 runs in 84 overs, it was India who still held a firm grip on the Centurion Test. For a moving day in Test cricket, this was quite extraordinary. With one full day lost to rain and the forecast not looking good for Day 5, for India to force a result, a lot depended on how the events unfolded on Day Three.

It didn’t start well for India by any means. If their plan was to bat once and big, it failed spectacularly. When South Africa pacer Lungi Ngidi said at the end of Day 1 it would be good to restrict India below 350, it looked far-fetched. Instead, he showed it is possible with help from the Indian batting line-up which undid all the hard work the top-order had done on the first day. From 272-3, they collapsed to 327 all out inside the first session, losing six wickets under the first hour of play for just 35 runs. For a side that continues to stick to the game plan of playing just six batters, such collapses frequent way too often.

Mohammed Shami reacts after claiming
his 200th Test wicket on Tuesday | AP

Like it has happened in the past, they keep getting away with it thanks to a bowling unit that is more than willing to compensate. On a pitch which only got quicker thanks to the rain on Day 2, the seamers were always going to be in with a chance as long as they hit the right areas. With the inexperienced Proteas attack getting rewards in the morning session without even needing to do much, the challenge was going to be much bigger for the hosts’ batting unit against this Indian attack, which relentlessly applies pressure.

And even though they were without Jasprit Bumrah, who needed medical attention after twisting his ankle soon after removing Dean Elgar in the first over, Mohammed Shami, Mohammed Siraj and Shardul Thakur ensured there was no escape for the hosts. While 327 didn’t look like a big total, to force a result in this Test, India needed a strong show with the ball and it was Shami who led the charge.

By bowling line and lengths what he termed “are not rocket science in Test cricket” he was always going to be a threat on this pitch with his seam movement and his ability to force batters play. Thanks to his wrist position which makes it look ridiculously easy for him to move it either ways, he was constantly testing both the edges, leaving batters squared-up. There is a reason he gets called ‘second innings Shami’. Out of his six five-wicket hauls, four have come in the third and fourth innings of a Test (four in the second innings of the team), which shows how he uses pitches that deteriorate, ones with uneven bounce to good use.

Centurion on Day Three resembled one such, where despite the pitch being baked under the harsh summer sun, only seemed to get quicker as the day progressed with spongy bounce fully intact. Keegan Petersen, Aiden Markram lost their stumps as Shami repeatedly tested both their edges and something had to give in. Once Shami took the two, Siraj joined the party by removing Rassie van der Dussen and should have had Quinton de Kock first ball, when Rahul dropped him at third slip.

The left-hander and Temba Bavuma with a 72-run stand for the fifth wicket steadied South Africa a bit, but against an attack that was not going to give away anything easily, it was only going to be a matter of time. And once De Kock perished, it only got harder for the hosts before they eventually folded for 197, with Shami picking up his first five-wicket haul in the second innings of a Test. There was still enough time for Marco Jansen to remove Mayank Agarwal, but it was India’s day all the way.

India 1st innings (O/n 272/3): Rahul c De Kock b Rabada 123, Rahane c De Kock b Ngidi 48, Pant c Der Dussen b Ngidi 8, Ashwin c Maharaj b Rabada 4, Thakur c De Kock b Rabada 4, Shami c De Kock b Ngidi 8, Bumrah c Mulder b Jansen 14, Siraj not out 4; Extras (b4, lb4, nb11): 19; Total (all out in 105.3 ovs) 327; FoW: 4-278, 5-291, 6-296, 7-296, 8-304, 9-308; Bowling: Rabada 26-5-72-3, Ngidi 24-5-71-6, Jansen 18.3-4-69-1, Mulder 19-4-49-0, Maharaj 18-2-58-0. South Africa 1st innings: Elgar c Pant b Bumrah 1, Markram b Shami 13, Petersen b Shami 15, Van der Dussen c Rahane b Siraj 3, Bavuma c Pant b Shami 52, De Kock b Thakur 34, Mulder c Pant b Shami 12, Jansen lbw Thakur 19, Rabada c Pant b Shami 25, Maharaj c Rahane b Bumrah 12, Ngidi not out 0; Extras: (lb4, nb7) 11; Total: (all out in 62.3 overs) 197; FoW: 1-2, 2-25, 3-30, 4-32, 5-104, 6-133, 7-144, 8-181, 9-193; Bowling: Bumrah 7.2-2-16-2, Siraj 15.1-3-45-1, Shami 16-5-44-5, Thakur 11-1-51-2,  Ashwin 13-2-37-0. India 2nd innings: Rahul (batting) 5, Agarwal c De Kock b Jansen 4, Thakur (batting) 4; Total (1 wicket in 6 ovs) 16; Extras (b1, nb2) 3; FoW: 1-12; Bowling: Rabada 3-0-7-0, Ngidi 2-1-4-0, Jansen 1-0-4-1.


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