Magic unfolded from the Indian pace battery in Centurion on Tuesday. India bowled as a pack to seize control of the first Test, with the third day’s play showcasing Test cricket in all its dramatic finery. As many as 18 wickets fell across three innings, the most in a day at this ground, as the pitch awoke early to the contest before settling down again later in the day.
Amid the rough and tumble, it was Mohammed Shami (5/44 off 16 overs) who shone brightest. So good is India’s fast-bowling pack these days that in helpful conditions, it often seems the team is itching to get on the park and work that new ball rather than hang around with the bat for a few runs more!
It is so good that it can even shrug off the temporary loss of its spearhead and maintain stranglehold on opposition batsmen. There was absolutely no panic in the Indian ranks as Jasprit Bumrah sprained his right ankle in ugly fashion and was rendered hors de combat for more than two hours.
Instead it was Shami, with his probing stump-to-stump lines, those teasing fuller lengths, deft use of the crease and deceptive seam movement at disconcerting pace, who took the breath away. On this day, Shami owned the corridor of uncertainty. Almost 39% of his deliveries were in good-length areas and his 200th Test wicket, when it came, was just reward for his efforts over the past few years. He is now in hallowed company, being just the fifth Indian pacer to the milestone.
The pacers shifted momentum back India’s way after a rather hurried batting collapse earlier in the day. They managed to keep South Africa down to 197 in their first innings in reply to India’s first-innings 327.
India took stumps at 16/1 in their second innings, Marco Jansen finding Mayank Agarwal’s outside edge with his first ball just six minutes before close. With the deficit of the second day’s washout largely wiped out and India 146 ahead, the hosts are in trouble.
The India seamers, it seemed, had learnt from the mistakes of their South African counterparts. They made adjustment of length in alien conditions look easy and shifted instantly to angles which made leaving the ball a luxury.
The South African batsmen had to play at 77% of the deliveries with the new ball. Bumrah, of course, kickstarted the magic, capping off the mayhem in the opening session with the dismissal of Dean Elgar. A pitched up, fuller delivery swung late as it moved away from the left-hander, leaving the SA Test captain rooted to his crease as a diving Rishabh Pant, who became the quickest Indian wicketkeeper to 100 dismissals, neatly picked up the edge.
The rest was all Shami. When he gets it right in these conditions, wrists straight, the ball landing full around offstump but not quite drivable length, with just enough seam movement and unpredictable bounce on offer, anything can happen. The compact and impressive-looking Keegan Peterson found this out the hard way the third ball after lunch, inside-edging one on to his stumps. Another such beauty castled Markram.
Siraj and Shardul Thakur too got into the act, the latter breaking a 72-run stand between de Kock and Bavuma.