Murali Vijay scored 45 runs across two innings in the first Test. Mohammed Shamis overall returns at the Wanderers,meanwhile,were five wickets at the cost of 155 runs. Once the dust settles on the Wanderers Test,Vijay and Shami might well be reduced to being part-players in the bigger scheme of the battle. Their impact sure to be diluted over time.
In years to come,Joburg 2013 will be remembered more by the rearguard efforts of Faf du Plessis,AB de Villiers,and the precocious centuries from Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. Not to forget,the fortune-oscillating final day and the pulsating last session with the debate regarding South Africas decision to back-out of the run-chase sure to rage on unceasingly.
The contributions of Vijay and Shami were worth more than the statistics. These were no walk-on roles. Certainly not as far as India were concerned. If Vijay was the catalyst for Indias dominance in their second innings,Shami was their relentless enforcer with the ball both times South Africa batted.
His attrition-themed essay on the third day might have been dwarfed by Pujara and Kohlis 222-run stand that followed. But it was the right-handed openers resilience,doggedness and discipline that had really set up the foundation for the visitors. Vijays 39 came off 94 deliveries. More importantly,he spent two-and-a-half hours at the crease. During that time,he had not only seen off the new ball he had also defused the heat created by Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander.
It was he who had neutralised the early challenge. It was Vijay who had laid the brickwork that Pujara and Kohli turned into a skyscraper. His end was unfortunate too. Just when he looked primed to open up,he got a little tickle down the leg-side off an innocuous delivery from Jacques Kallis. By then,he had showcased the willingness to leave balls outside his off-stump,a resolute defence and also not be deterred from driving the loose ball from Steyn,his proposed nemesis,to the boundary even if it meant a barrage of bouncers from the premier pacer.
He had done a pretty fair job in the first innings as well,spending 70 minutes and overcoming the first spells from Steyn and Philander before Morne Morkel nabbed him with a brute of a delivery. This Test was anyway not about runs for Vijay. It was more about his pride. It was a chance to show the cricket world that he did belong at this level.
Few in the present Indian squad have attracted as many naysayers as Vijay. And not many really gave him a chance to survive,forget succeed in South African climes. The list regarding his potential fallibilities were endless. From his technique being faulty,to him being too brash to his tendency to being marooned on the back-foot in the face of genuine pace and movement,his detractors always seemed in for a field day. Wouldnt India have been better off with the experience of Gautam Gambhir?
So what if he scored centuries against Australia. They had come on docile tracks at home anyway. In Johannesburg,he proved that he was more than a flat-track bully. That he could stand up and be counted in the face of adversity.
If Vijay was a pet-hate for many,Shami was nothing short of an outsider,probably even a month before the tour. He did have a handful of ODIs under his belt,but not many expected the Bengal seamer to be a starter at the Wanderers. He had been a revelation against the West Indies at home alright. But that he would leapfrog Umesh Yadav,the official tearaway,was not considered a serious prospect.
At the Wanderers,he was not just the third-wheel in Indias pace attack. In most of his spells,he was very much the marauder. The go-to man for Dhoni whenever he required a breakthrough. He didnt disappoint.
There was hardly a spell where Shami didnt begin without beating the outside-edge or not rapping the batsman on the pads. He was quick,incisive,swung the ball both ways,and even got it to move off the wicket. He never stopped attacking. There was hardly a spell where he didnt look threatening. Here,he was up against arguably the strongest and most experienced batting line-up in world cricket. Not once did he seem overawed. Not even while bowling to Graeme Smith or Kallis,both of whom he troubled constantly.
Not an also-ran
He even managed to procure reverse-swing in conditions not best suited for it. In the first innings,he had AB de Villiers and JP Duminy out in the same over to really set in the rot that Ishant Sharma had started.
And he brought India back into the game twice on the final day,bowling Alviro Petersen in the first session before returning with some late movement to send Duminy packing again. Presently he stands with better numbers than any other Indian fast bowler in history after three Tests.
On Monday,the Indian team flew into Durban for the second Test. Not only a home away from home but also to a venue and pitch which should ideally suit them much more.
Having played part-roles in an epic at the Wanderers,it could well be the turn of Vijay and Shami to don the headliners garb.