Follow Us:
Sunday, January 23, 2022

IND vs SA 3rd Test: Shami’s unique skills get India back in game

Two wickets in three balls show how he is adept at getting the best response out of a pitch.

Written by Sriram Veera |
Updated: January 13, 2022 1:39:27 pm
Indian bowler Mohammed Shami bowls during the second day of the third and final test match between South Africa and India in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

It’s something that Mohammed Shami did as the ball got older, around the 40-50 over mark in the middle of the day, that sets him apart from other fast bowlers on the planet. It’s what enabled him to crack open the dogged South Africans who were batting with a plan, and allowed Jasprit Bumrah to have a go at the lower order.

Before one analyses what Shami did, here is what the South Africans did, just to appreciate what Shami was up against. All the top-order South African batsmen stood on the off-stump guard, with barely any trigger movement. Be it Dean Elgar, Keegan Petersen or Temba Bavuma.

Petersen, who defends and punches much like former South African batsman Daryl Cullinan used to do, and Bavuma in particular had tackled all the Indian bowlers with an impressive assurance. The off-stump guard, combined with minimal movement, meant they knew where their off-stump was. They defended compactly off the front foot, punched most things short through the offside, and repelled anything that came towards their pads. It’s why Bumrah was forced to go wider outside off-stump, as former pacer Fanie de Villiers indicated to the newspaper the other day, but the reason wasn’t errancy but an effort to target the edge. Ditto with Umesh Yadav and Shardul Thakur. It wasn’t working as the batting pair alternated with defence and punches. Until Shami came back in the middle of the second session.

Now to what he did. Rather what he doesn’t do, usually. Shami doesn’t cut his fingers across the seam. At times, especially as the ball gets a touch older, he doesn’t even angle the seam either side too much. There is almost no indication about what he wants the ball to do. There are no visible cues, elsewhere too. The bowling arm is almost ramrod straight, at 90 degrees or 12 o’ clock. No angles there, no crooked elbows to discern anything about the ball’s behaviour. The fingers, usually, are a touch adjacent to the seam, almost locking the ball, holding the seam upright. The ball rushes towards the other end, seam proud and straight – and the batsman can watch as intensely as he can but is not going to get a hint.

It’s not as if Shami just sends it on a prayer. But he meddles the least with the leather. So, what is he thinking? A couple of years ago, Bharat Arun, the former India bowling coach who is as intimate with Shami’s art as anyone can be, explained it to this newspaper.

“He isn’t trying to cut the ball all that much. As in you won’t see his fingers whipping across the seam and stuff like that. So, all the focus is on releasing it with a proud seam position. The important thing is still the smooth action and the way you release, of course, which comes naturally to him. Combined with the proud seam, the ball skids. And he attacks the stumps more than anyone on such surfaces.” That was said for pitches where the ball can skid.

Master at work

Not many use the pitch in the way Shami does. All good bowlers do, of course, but they impart something to the ball, hoping to either cut it this way or that, swing it this way or that. Shami sends the ball across as if to a party. Dresses it up nicely with seam upright, and that straight high arm and fingers on the seam’s edges ensure not much of a wobble, almost as if he has whispered to the red cherry: get out there, soak up what the pitch is offering, and do your thing.

“Shami focuses on getting a half-a-bat-width movement, just enough to beat the bat and either hit the edge, or the pad or the stumps. The big seam deviations look good on TV, but don’t fetch you wickets,” Arun says.

Here he was against two well-set batsmen. With an old ball. Identifying the lengths is the key to Shami’s success. It’s the lengths and, by extension, the vagaries of the pitch that is Shami’s focus.

“He takes his time to sort out the lengths to bowl on a pitch. That’s his first aim. The line is always spot-on for him, he doesn’t have to work that out. Depending on the session of play, he will observe what lengths work, what don’t. Where to release the ball so that it either skids or bounces,” Arun says. “His lengths are what we would usually discuss in the breaks.”

Shami kept pinging around off-stump, the seam whistling through straight, and the ball pressing into the pitch and ramming the bat. Doing what it was designed to do by the bowler. In the morning, with the new ball, he had the seam tilted a touch towards slips and had it curving.

Much like Cullinan at his pomp, Petersen was not only defending well on the front foot but also covering the line of deliveries outside off. The ball would hit plush in the middle of the bat and drop dead, not just in the line of the stumps but even outside off. No chance of any edges, it seemed.

Shami had troubled him with the new ball by curving it away with bounce. Couple of edges materialised but didn’t settle into the palms in the slips. In the middle, from the 43 to 48th overs, he had another go but this time Petersen negotiated him well.

Bavuma loves to drive. He swallows the full ones and even attempts to cream on the up the length ones. Here presented a chance in theory. But he too was looking good on the day.

“Shami will release the ball a tad earlier in the action, when he wants the length to be fuller. If he wants it to bounce higher from a shorter length, he will release the ball later during the action,” Arun says. “He identifies the length and then the way he targets that area determines the way the ball goes: skiddy or bouncy,” Arun says.

Breaking the game open

He re-entered the stream in the 54th over. Length, length and then a couple of them fuller, trying to sneak in through Bavuma’s defence. One nearly did, but the ball clipped off the inner edge onto the pad. The ball after that, he goes for the heavy ball, Bavuma is up to the task, sponging out the venom.

First ball next over, Shami tries to get one to kick up from a length. Bavuma, on off-stump guard, stirs as he picks up the length and creams it dreamily on the up through covers. And admires the shot.

The Indian team celebrates the wicket of Keegan Peterson, left, during the second day of the third and final test match between South Africa and India in Cape Town, South Africa, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Halden Krog)

Next ball, a tad shorter, and kicking up even as it straightens outside off-stump. Bavuma isn’t forward or back. Freezes, almost but still does other things right. The bottom hand is off the handle and he tries his best to jerk back the hand that holds the bat. Too late, though. The ball has already ricocheted off the edge towards second slip where Virat Kohli takes a stunner, diving low to his left and forward at that. He is up on his feet in a flash, posing quietly, even as Shami jogs on quietly. No elation. Nothing. Just waits for a team-mate to arrive to quietly high-five.

With the iffy walkabout technique, Kyle Verreynne lasted just two balls. Shami had of course sensed that the fuller length was the way to go, and he produced the unsurprising edge. From 159 for 4, after that 47-run promising partnership, Shami had left South Africa on the edge at 159 for 6. The door was ajar and Bumrah stormed in to no one’s surprise.

It’s Shami’s deliveries that skid more than most. It’s his deliveries that kick up the most from just back of a length, those heavy balls that hit the top half of the bat near the handle. It’s his bouncers that rear up straight at the throat that once made Sunil Gavaskar reach out for a comparison with the nasty ones he received from Malcolm Marshall. It’s his deliveries that get the most out of an up-and-down pitch or a bouncy track. Unsurprisingly, on a day when the South Africans seemed in the mood for a fight and had a plan, it’s Shami who broke their back.

📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines

For all the latest Sports News, download Indian Express App.

  • Newsguard
  • The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.
  • Newsguard