Cricket news - Fifth day not a whole new ball game for Jadeja and Shami

With his ninth delivery of the day, Shami had both Bavuma and his off-stump on the floor

It took four days of cricket in Visakhapatnam to produce a moment of Shakespearean melodrama. Temba Bavuma and his off-stump were both on the floor. Virat Kohli repeatedly pointed at Cheteshwar Pujara, stationed at a misleading deep square-leg, before joining the bowler, Mohammed Shami, on his celebratory run. The pitch demons had finally been invoked and the dominos were now falling fast. The home stretch was near.

India's victory margin of 203 runs, achieved with more than two sessions to spare (one was washed out on Day 1) would point at another run-of-the-mill victory. It was anything but. South Africa scored 431 in their first innings and batted an hour into the fourth day. That meant India had to force the pace in their second dig, set a target beyond South Africa's reach and leave themselves with enough overs to force the win. In short, play a near-perfect Test match and hope that the fifth-day pitch would be their ally.

Kohli's team has played such Tests twice recently, against England in Mumbai and Chennai. This surface on Vizag, though, was branded "good" by both Ravichandran Ashwin and Faf du Plessis. Like any good pitch, this would reveal the true identities of both sides. Those experienced transcended its disadvantages; the others fell prey to it. It just about offered equal opportunity for players of different core competence to succeed at various points in the game, while simultaneously retaining the unique spirit of Indian conditions.

Except the fast bowlers. Until the fifth day, they were members of the support cast, relegated to third man and fine-leg and called upon to bowl once in a while to bowl a few dry overs. Only four of thee 22 wickets over the first four days had gone to the quicks, a statistic Vernon Philander used to offer a sarcastic chuckle in response to a question on the possibility of South Africa playing an extra seamer. But atop the bowling mark at the start of the fifth day stood Shami, a fast bowler and a bristling embodiment of a modern India Test side that no longer needs to doctor surfaces at home.

Shami had a relatively new ball in his hand (nine-overs old). It was a product of India's carefully regimented plan on the previous day to bat long after their lead had passed the safety threshold. This way they had time in the morning to attack before the SG ball went soft and opened South Africa's prospects of a draw.

But they needn't have fretted too much. With his ninth delivery of the day, Shami cleaned up Bavuma with a ball that scooted at knee height. Shami bowled a three-over burst, rested for six overs while Ishant took over and then came back for another three in which he uprooted du Plessis and Quinton de Kock's off stumps as well. The former left a ball that seamed back in, the latter played around one that straightened after pitching and 'Second Innings' Shami trended on Twitter.

'Second Innings' Shami

Each of the three dismissals served as case studies to explain Shami's moniker. For starters, there are no easy leaves with him anymore because of his lines. Where previously he may have been guilty of starting on middle, he takes aim at the off-stump. When it's reversing in, he'll hit middle.

Then there's his length, which in the sub-continent and particularly on a fifth day, can play tricks with an overseas batsman's muscle memory. Shami bowls slightly back of a length, which a Bavuma or a du Plessis would be conditioned into playing on the back foot or leave, trusting it to bounce over. Kohli then plays on this intrinsic understanding of lengths by placing a decoy fielder in the deep on the legside.

In Indian conditions and by the time the second innings rolls in, back of length still hits the stump. If the batsman is already camped on the backfoot, Shami's off-stump line and his natural skiddiness further reduce survival against a ball keeping low. It is no surprise that 18 off Shami's 27 second-innings wickets, including four today, in the sub-continent are either bowled or LBW.

"He knows how to bowl on such pitches, gets reverse swing straight into play once he knows there is some help on offer," Rohit Sharma said offering a batsman's perspective. "He has mastered that art now, bowling with the old ball and getting it to reverse. These type of conditions are pretty ideal for him. He makes them play all the balls and it is tough for the batsmen where the ball misbehaving doing something from the crack at time staying low."

Unfortunately for South Africa, India have not one but two bowlers who have shifted the paradigm of fifth-day bowling in India. Ravindra Jadeja was the follow-up act today, following Shami's triple strike with a set of three of his own. While the track offered turn, it still hadn't turned rank in the manner that a straight line drawn on it came out a semi circle. Slow spin allows even batsman, beaten in the flight, some leeway for adjustment. But Jadeja still thrives in these conditions, because he understands his craft, its limitations and how it may be best applied to these conditions. Moreover he thrives, because his fitness allows him to stay relentless even in the final hour of the fifth day of a Test match.

Jadeja knows that ripping spin off the track is great, but that it is the straighter ones in between that make his bowling go nuclear. The flatter, skiddier balls, that stay the course, and flirt with that inside edge do as much damage as the turners that hit a footmark and jump drastically the other way. South Africa could have still negotiated them had the decisions made by their top order - to stay on the backfoot against Shami - hadn't exposed Nos. 8 and 9 to Jadeja's simplistic brutality.

India, though, did hit a roadblock when the SG ball went soft. Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy compiled a defiant 91-run stand for the ninth wicket, asking questions of India's bowling attack on the "good" Vizag pitch. But with Shami and Jadeja in the arsenal, it was always a matter of when, and not if, for India.