The loudest cheer that had rung out around SuperSport Park till then was when the PA system declared that the bars around the ground,and there are many,will remain open even after the match is over. Just a few moments later,came a second roar.
The immediate reaction from Amla was one of shock. Then came the shake of the head. Mohammed Shami wasn’t complaining though but couldn’t mask a sheepish grin. It was the third time in succession that he had dismissed South Africa’s most prolific batsman in the series,even if it was in fortuitous fashion on this occasion. More importantly,like he has done over the last 10 days,Shami had come into the attack and made things happen. At the Wanderers,he had gotten rid of a well-set Amla by rushing him and getting him to play-on,while at Durban,Shami had his man with a cleverly-disguised slow bouncer. He made it three out of three in his first over on Wednesday.
Just like in Johannesburg and Durban,here too the Bengal seamer looked more incisive than his pace bowling colleagues from his very first ball.
There suddenly seemed to be more carry off the wicket with Mahendra Singh Dhoni having to collect more balls in front of his face. There seemed to be movement off the SuperSport Park wicket that was conspicuous by its absence till then and the batsmen too were being made to be more cautious. Shami had instilled some intensity into the bowling attack for the umpteenth occasion. His first spell was of three overs,where he beat the bat more often than Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav. He also seemed to be clocking higher speeds consistently than Yadav,the official tearaway of the Indian bowling arsenal.
He had been equally impressive in his opening spells during the first two ODIs too. Shami came in at the Wanderers after Mohit Sharma and Bhuvneshwar Kumar had wasted the two new-balls,and instantly brought a difference. In his first two spells there,he gave away only 27 runs in seven overs while snaring Amla and Jacques Kallis. But like everyone else was torn apart in the death overs. While he was slightly expensive at Kingsmead with the new-ball,he made things happen in his later spells,once again finishing with three scalps,including the one of Kallis with a near-yorker and a tinge of reverse swing.
While seam movement has always been Shami’s strength,as he showed against the West Indies at home,the secret to his success so far in South Africa has been his length. During a tour where the rest of the Indian pacers have been guilty of having bowled too short Shami made the most of the conditions at the Wanderers and mixed his pace well.
The only times he’s really erred is on the fuller side,where he’s tried to pitch the ball up in search of movement in the air. Close to 80 per cent of the boundaries scored off Shami have been in front of the wicket towards the straight field,an indication of the lengths he has bowled.
He’s also displayed the knack of taking wickets,which he first displayed during the ODIs against Australia. Clearly Shami has been the only real positive of what has been an unmemorable tour for India,giving the bowling some respectability,a fact Dhoni had agreed with after the Durban loss. I think what’s crucial is the seam positioning,he bowls with the seam upright and he bowls the right line and length. I think he has adapted very well. And the more he is playing the better he is getting,so that’s a big positive for us,” the Indian skipper had said.
He’s clearly been Dhoni’s go-to man during the series,and has rarely disappointed him,at least in terms of taking wickets. At Centurion,he got some support from Ishant,who for once got his length right in the early going and had two batsmen caught in the slips,a rare occurrence for India in the series.
Shami had already pencilled his name into the starting XI come the first Test at the Wanderers with his showing against the West Indies.
With his string of impressive performances in the ODIs,he might just have leapfrogged the likes of Kumar and Sharma when it comes to the Test matches,where he’ll hope to continue his good run against Amla.