Sensational Mohammed Siraj and carnage of the batters | Crickit

Sensational Mohammed Siraj and carnage of the batters

Jan 04, 2024 12:07 AM IST

The India pacer kicked the madness off with 6/15 but then it rubbed off on the Indian batters too on Day 1 in the Newlands Test

The day started with India bowling and it ended with them bowling as well. But the real story of the day is what happened between the first ball and the last. It will leave you flabbergasted, speechless, amazed, and yet at the same time, make you wonder where batting at the Test level is headed.

 Mohammed Siraj turned up with a spell for the ages to skittle the hosts out for 55(AFP)
Mohammed Siraj turned up with a spell for the ages to skittle the hosts out for 55(AFP)

Just look at the numbers: A South African record 23 wickets in the day, SA bowled out for 55 in their first innings (their lowest total since being 45 all out against Australia in 1932), India losing six wickets in 11 balls for no run to collapse to 153 all out after being 153/4 in their first innings and then, in reply, SA reached 62/3 -- trailing by 36 runs. All of this in one day, and some say T20s are manic.

It was exciting, it was entertaining and to be sure, it wasn't entirely on the pitch. It wasn't the easiest wicket to bat on but South Africa's decision to bat first had more to do with the reputation of the venue than pure cricketing logic.

Their bravado backfired as Mohammed Siraj turned up with a spell for the ages to skittle the hosts out for 55, the lowest total against India in Tests. Bowling unchanged from one end, he finished with incredible figures of 9-3-15-6 as South Africa's first innings ended at the stroke of lunch.

It was a perfect morning on an awkward pitch which afforded sharp movement off the seam. India's bowlers asked the questions and the SA batters were unable to answer them. Just two of their batters managed to get into double figures -- David Bedingham (12) and Kyle Verreynne (15). The highest partnership was 19. This was hard to decipher if only because of how crazy it all was.

Between the first and second Test, Siraj made the big adjustment. At Centurion, he was often looking for swing. At Newlands, he wasn't floating the ball up searching for swing. He concentrated on the hard lengths and modern-day batters like to feel ball on bat. They kept trying to play but the length created problems and India's catching in the slip cordon was brilliant.

There was a good amount of grass left on the Newlands pitch but that was mainly due to the high temperature that the area has had over the last two weeks. But take nothing away from Siraj, who showed that he loves nothing more than to get on a roll. Think Harbhajan Singh, think Stuart Broad.

Siraj got his break in the Indian team after taking 8/59 for India A vs Australia A in 2018 and one aspect of his game that hasn't changed over the years is how an early wicket brings out the best in him. On Wednesday, he got Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar early and that set him and the Test off on a scarcely believable journey.

India were trying to bowl straighter and that got the slips into play. A case in point was the manner in which Marco Jansen's dismissal was planned. Virat Kohli asked Siraj to bowl full and get the batter to defend on the front foot. The execution was spot on and the batter, who had batted so well in the first Test, was walking back after scoring a three-ball duck.

During commentary, Vernon Philander, who claimed 52 wickets in his 11 Tests at Newlands, said that the first 20 balls to a new batter was key in South Africa. But the only SA batter who got past that mark was Verreynne, who played 30 balls in his 15.

“On these wickets where the ball is doing so much, often bowlers tend to think ‘let me try and bowl an outswinger darting from leg to off or get one to bend back from angle', but one should stick to one line. If you hit areas, wickets will come automatically,” Siraj said after play.

With the South Africans getting bowled out in a session, India had the opportunity to take charge of the game. And for a while, it looked like they were doing exactly that. A 55-run partnership between Rohit Sharma (39) and Shubman Gill (36) added to the pressure on the hosts.

At tea, India were 111/4 after 24 overs, and given the conditions, that was more than a fair score. The total advanced to 153/4 before KL Rahul nicked an attempted upper cut to the keeper. Suddenly all hell broke loose. What started with Lungi Ngidi claiming three wickets in the 34th over of the innings snowballed into a collapse that left many scratching their heads with the 'what-just-happened-there' look.

India squandered an opportunity to push the match beyond South Africa and their brittle batting once again failed to back up the bowlers. In the 30 minutes after tea break, Kohli and Rahul had looked more than comfortable but the moment the SA bowlers found their length, the visitors disintegrated.

When the South Africans came out to bat for the second time in the day, behind by 98 runs, they showed that there was not too much wrong with the wicket. Markram showed positive intent to reach 36 not out before the umpires called stumps, and he will be the key wicket.

The hosts aren't out of the woods but given how the first Test and the first innings have gone, they'll know that there's everything to play for because with India everything and anything can happen. Day 2 promises to be fun.

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