Shami, Umesh forcing the initiative with right line and lengths

Shami and Yadav in Ranchi against South Africa discovered what venomous fast bowling can achieve when the time is ripe for it to be let loose.

Standing tall: Shami pierced through South Africa's top order in the second innings.   -  PTI

Rohit Sharma sizzled in his debut series as a Test opener, and Wriddhiman Saha made a successful comeback to international cricket after 22 months but the highlight of the series was India's pace bowling. The devastating, sometimes panic-inducing, spells from the fast bowlers not only laid down the path for a 3-0 whitewash but also issued a reminder that the country's pace reserves are healthy as ever. That they did so without the services of Jasprit Bumrah -- who was ruled out with a minor stress fracture -- says much about the depth of the bowling.

Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav, on a Ranchi wicket that by now had started helping the seamers, discovered what venomous fast bowling can achieve when the time is ripe for it to be let loose. Operating in short bursts and with an assurance that the spinners could control the game should runs start leaking, Shami and Yadav put the South African batsmen through a relentless test of the short ball and probing line, which ultimately proved to be the opposition's undoing.

READ | Day three report

While Shami hit Anrich Nortje thrice in the first innings: twice on the shoulder and the elbow once, Dean Elgar was struck above the ear in the second innings by a Yadav delivery that didn't rise as much as he anticipated. He was forced to retire hurt.

"I don't think we were intimidated by them (India's fast bowlers) but they bowled good line and lengths; they were very disciplined. Credit to them," South Africa batsman Zubayr Hamza said after the day's play.

Umesh Yadav celebrates the dismissal of Klaasen in the second innings. Photo: PTI

 

"With the new ball, he (Shami) forced us to play at more balls. Both Umesh and Shami bowled attacking lines and didn't allow us to leave the ball many times. The general notion is that it's tough to play spin in the sub-continent. In saying that we weren't underprepared against the fast bowlers. 

"We knew that to get to their spinners, we first had to go through the opening spells of their seamers who are very disciplined and go about their job in an extremely professional way. I wish we had prepared more mentally to be able to handle them in whatever conditions we are playing," he added.

One thing that has stood out throughout this series is the accuracy: while the pace is, no doubt, the backbone of fast bowling, the exactness of line and length is its heart and without it, seamers could end up playing into the hands of the batsmen; something Shami and Yadav didn't do.

Interestingly, the wickets this series are in sharp contrast to the turning pitches that were on offer the last time South Africa toured the country in 2015. Then their batsmen struggled to cope with spin, and now they have come up short against the seamers on tracks that gave bounce and good carry.

Umesh sends De Kock's stump cartwheeling in the second innings. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

 

South Africa will look back at the night in Bengaluru 29 days ago, when Beuran Hendricks and Quinton de Kock sparkled to level the three-match T20I series 1-1, and wonder how to judge that victory in hindsight: as a harbinger of better things to come or a sliver of sunlight in, what has eventually turned out to be, a tour of despair and disappointment.

The Test series, as skipper Faf du Plessis had said in Visakhapatnam, was going to be a chance for the youngsters to stake claim to "be the next best Hashim Amlas". Instead, as the Ranchi Test drew closer to an end, they were probably left pondering on how the series would have panned out if the country's second-highest run-scorer in the Test format, was still around.

While India was ruthless, did South Africa's awfulness make its performance look awe-inspiringly good? Has South Africa suddenly become utterly appalling in a matter of months, or has India dragged the Proteas there with the force of its performances? There are some questions within the questions for both teams to answer as they head in different directions in the World Test Championship.