Visakhapatnam: The end was swift. It could have come quicker, but for a record ninth-wicket stand for South Africa in Tests against India.
Cheteshwar Pujara had spoken at the end of the fourth day of there being enough cracks on the surface for India’s spinners to exploit, and expressed confidence at getting an outright result in their favour.
Win they did, by 203 runs, and in a matter of just 63.5 overs, as South Africa were rolled over for 191, thanks to Mohammed Shami’s 5/35 and Ravindra Jadeja’s 4/87. That the visitors lasted well beyond lunch was only thanks to a dogged ninth-wicket partnership between Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy. Together, they put on 91 runs when no other South African pair had managed to string together more than 32.
The gates opened on the 11th ball of the day, when Theunis de Bruyn attempted to cut R Ashwin, only for the ball to dip and spin in to crash off the inside edge into the stumps. The wicket was Ashwin’s 350th in 66 Tests, making him the joint-fastest to the mark, alongside Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan.
That was the breakthrough that sent the innings into a tailspin, as South Africa lost seven wickets in just over 16 overs, adding 51 runs in that time.
But it wasn’t just the spinners doing all the damage. Shami produced a three-wicket burst to rip through the heart of the middle order and accelerate the slide. He first went through Temba Bavuma with a length ball that kept so low that the batsman was swept off his feet as he tried to adjust to the lack of height and the ball snuck through to take out the stumps.
Du Plessis could hardly believe his luck when he let a seemingly innocuous delivery in the fifth-stump channel go, only to watch the ball, to his utter horror, cut back in sharply and abruptly change course to take out his off-stump. De Kock paid the price for lack of feet movement, leaving a huge gap between bat and pad that was enough for a length ball to straighten and sneak through.
All this while, Aiden Markram had played some confident strokes, especially down the ground, reaping the rewards for decisive footwork against India’s spinners. He also employed the sweep to good effect. Seeing another opportunity to score when Jadeja tossed one up to him, Markram, this time rooted to the crease, looked to shovel him down the ground and lofted the ball after seeing the field inside. But Jadeja intercepted it easily in a spectacular caught-and-bowled, sticking his left hand out and snaffling a stunner, with minimal time to react.
He was then convinced that India should review a withheld lbw appeal against Vernon Philander, which turned out to be the right call, as Philander was sent back for a pair. Keshav Maharaj suffered the same fate a ball later, pushing South Africa further down the brink and prompting India to ask for a 15-minute extension of the morning session.
That didn’t turn out to be enough, nor did the first hour and a bit of the afternoon session, as Piedt and Muthusamy stoically denied India’s spinners, defending assuredly and punishing errors in length. With seven hundreds and 18 fifties in first-class cricket, Muthusamy is a capable batsman, but here, he played second fiddle to Piedt, who did the bulk of the scoring in the partnership.
Though he has a hundred and 11 fifties at the first-class level, Piedt has never passed fifty in Test cricket. He did that on Sunday, but all it could do was delay what was already a certainty. Shami returned to strike with the first ball of his new spell, drawing the inside edge and rattling the woodwork of Piedt. All four of his wickets until then had been bowled. That would change when Kagiso Rabada threw his hands at a wide fuller one from Shami and edged behind to Wriddhiman Saha to put the finishing touches on a comprehensive victory.