The talk of the town for a few days leading to the third Test between the world’s No. 1 team South Africa and the home team has been around the potential duration of the Test and the wherewithal of the Indian spin masters to bring an early finish. With 12 wickets crashing on the first day with not a great deal scored by the batsmen, the cricketing soothsayer may have a field day, but India’s assistant coach Sanjay Bangar said that a lot more cricket has to be played in the remaining four days.
There has been no doubt in anybody’s mind of the fact of the local curators following the unwritten rule of keeping the surface dry, and the first hints thrown by ground in-charge here that the pitch would show bias to the spinners was a clear indicator that the series would continue in spin-friendly environment. The South African captain, Hashim Amla’s act of tossing the ball to off-spinner Simon Harmer to start bowling after Morne Morkel and Kasigo Rabada took 42 minutes to bowl eight overs only confirmed that even the visiting team would have to shift its attack to spin mode at the earliest opportunity. In the event, it turned out to a profitable gambit as the visitor enjoyed success restricting the home team to a meagre 215 and with its variety of spinners.
On their part, the Indian batting line-up, bolstered by the inclusion of Rohit Sharma, at the expense of a second seamer in Varun Aaron, found out as early in the first hour of play that their footwork, patience and nerves will be put to severe examination as the turning ball would increasingly dominate the proceedings, bringing with it the element of uneven bounce.
Morkel assumes role of leader
There is no gainsaying the fact that South Africa’s new-ball potential was considerably diminished with Dale Steyn not in the scheme of things, and considering that Rabada is still a tyro in international cricket, the tall and sturdy Morkel took upon himself the role to steam in and break the back of the home team, dismissing the settled Murali Vijay, the Indian captain Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane. He posed much threat once the ball started to reverse-swing.
Morkel made Vijay duck on a couple of occasions in his opening burst and once the right-handed opener took a blow on the lower part of the arm guard. But when he returned for his second spell with the ball slightly old, he beat Vijay in the air and off the pitch and the leg cutter released from a high position, struck his back leg in front of the stumps. Having found his rhythm with speed, Morkel took the centre stage; he made Ajinkya Rahane play across and bowl him off the pad and then, he ejected the Indian captain from the middle.
When Rabada stuck to his basics and choked the supply of runs, Harmer, quite unlucky not be among wickets in his opening spell, got his first wicket when he forced Cheteshwar Pujara into back-play bowling around the wicket and from close to the return crease, and trap him in front. This was the style he applied as a strategy, tempting the right hander also to sweep with a man at backward square leg. It was natural that two slips and a gully on occasions would make way for a short slip, gully and the leg trap in place for the off-spinner playing only his fifth Test match. Once he decided the pace with which he should bowl, he removed Sharma from the middle with the turning and bouncing ball taking the bottom hand glove of the batsman.
There was clear evidence of the Indian batsmen’s intention to endure the hazards of the turning ball; at least seven batsmen, Vijay, Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli, Wriddhiman Saha, Ravindra Jadeja and Ashwin blocked deliveries and spent valuable time. Raised on virtual powder tops in Rajkot, Jadeja proved adroit in dealing with the circumstances and Saha showed remarkable patience for two hours and twenty one minutes, as a result of which the seventh-wicket stand delivered a priceless 48 runs.
In a little over half an over, Ashwin and Jadeja, dispatched an opener and a night watchman, which brought to the middle Amla. This is a Test match India and Kohli have moved away from the five-bowler theory by picking just one seamer in Ishant Sharma. Once again the task is cut out for Ashwin and Jadeja and they may probably have the last say.