Shami and India's hit-straps-early exigency
INDIA TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018Shami and India's hit-straps-early exigencyKaushik Rangarajan â¢ There's a point to be noted about Shami, who was easily India's most consistent fast bowler in the home season, that he doesn't always hit the ground running Â© BCCI
Maybe first days of Test matches are over rated. Those on the grass embankments at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on Saturday thought otherwise, turning up well before the first ball was bowled, beers in their hand and zest in their vocal chords. From Steve Harmison's Gabba wide to Zaheer Khan breaking down before Lunch in 2011, there have been many instances worthy of revisiting to make it sound as if they offered a premonition of the final outcome.
In Centurion, the scrutiny around the opening exchanges were elevated after India served another selection curveball by dropping Bhuvneshwar Kumar. Virat Kohli's luck with the toss meant the first hour was when his horses for this course could make most hay. Pace and bounce was demanded and forecast, for the Centurion pitch, but the memo didn't quite find its way to curator Brian Bloy's table.
So that's why the first ball from India's de facto bowling leader, Mohammed Shami, added that much more mystique. What Shami offered Aiden Markram at a little past 10 am in the morning was a limp loosener, clocked at 82mph, wide outside off-stump and one that barely carried to new (old?) keeper Parthiv Patel. Perhaps in Shami's head, the brownish tinge on the wicket meant his afternoon spell with the old ball was going to be more important. That to India, should have been as portentous a sign as there could be, while trying to hold on to their unbeaten streak in Test series.
There's a point to be noted about Shami, who was easily India's most consistent fast bowler in the home season, that he doesn't always hit the ground running. In fact, he takes his first wicket on an average off his 43rd delivery, in his eighth over. So there is a history of him starting slow. In the nets and on the side-wickets before the start of game too, Shami builds up steam at a slightly more leisurely pace. Perhaps it is to do with the career-threatening knee injury suffered at the 2015 World Cup, which kept him o ut for nearly six months, playing up at the back of his head.
It was a similar start at Newlands, when Shami began the series in first gear, struggling with his run-up, the taping around his knees, his rhythm and his lines while Bhuvneshwar was wreaking havoc. He did come back to bowl a better second spell and then produced a fine exhibition of seam bowling under clouds on Day 4.
Describing opening spells, Brett Lee in a column for The Guardian once wrote: "It's all about rhythm, feeling fit and getting your body to click quickly." Shami failed on all three counts in his. He trundled to the crease, barely getting any body behind his action. The fastest of his first 18 deliveries was clocked at 84.5 mph. Only one of those was projected to hit the stumps from the 8-metre length he stuck to. That meant, batsmen were never forced into caring about the deliveries, let alone driving at it. In contrast, Ishant Sharma, bowling first change, got his first two d eliveries to zip off at 86.4 and 86.8 mph.
When the pitch is flat and the ball doesn't move, the extra four or five miles per hour can make all the difference - they are more likely to beat the opener for pace, to magnify any flaws in the technique, or test his courage. The batsman is circumspect against the short ball and could get caught on the crease to the fuller ones.
At the end of his third over, which also happened to be the end of his first spell, Parthiv Patel ran all the way to fine leg to offer a sympathetic pat on the bottom to Shami. Kohli, who didn't hide his frustration from the slip cordon at the lack of effectiveness, tried to bring Shami back from the Hennops River End, but was quickly left throwing his hands up in annoyance as Shami overpitched twice and was taken for boundaries. He didn't bowl another over in the morning. He came back for a four-over spell in the second session, where he was noticeably quicker and three more after T ea but struggled with a headache in the sapping heat and finished with figures of 11-2-46-0. He was then ignored for a final burst with the second new ball.
"I think, any bowler for that matter when you go for runs in the first spell itself, it's very difficult to gather yourself and gather your thoughts and try and comeback with a plan for the next spell," R Ashwin said at close of play. "I thought, he came back pretty well in the second spell when he was bowling a lot more quicker and trying and hitting, he was getting into the wicketkeeper's hands, thudding a lot more into the gloves. So, these are just things you really want to be harsh, read into someone and you can very well easily pass a judgement about someone. But having gotten hit in the first spell, I thought he came back really well. You never know he might close out the game tomorrow."
The magnitude of a Shami's cold start could easily be lost on a day like this, given India found a way back into the contest to leave South Africa at 269 for 6. They had Ravichandran Ashwin and a 10-minute period of two South African runouts to thank for it. But if India are to seize early initiatives in South Africa, they can't afford their lead strike bowler starting with his handbrake pulled up.Â© Cricbuzz TAGS