It must be nice to be Virat Kohli... nice to be able to toss the ball to Jasprit Bumrah at any point of the game... regardless of the conditions, knowing that the pacer is capable of producing magic at virtually the drop of a hat. Nice for Kohli and India, not so nice for the opposition.
For most of day four at Centurion, South Africa had fought hard. First, they dismissed India for 174. And then, despite losing Aiden Markram early, the remaining batters showed the willingness to get stuck in. One might say that it is exactly what any team would do but grit and determination under pressure have been in short supply in Test cricket of late.
Dean Elgar led the way in the awkward manner he has made his own. He plays and misses a lot; he also gets hit on the body a lot but he fights on regardless. For South Africa, it was important that the captain showed the way forward and he did exactly that.
A 33-run partnership off 76 balls between Elgar and Keegan Petersen pointed the home team in the right direction and then Rassie van der Dussen further added to India’s frustration with a dour stand with his skipper.
Kohli rang in the changes. Siraj. Shami. Bumrah. Thakur. Ashwin. Shami. Siraj and then, finally, back to Bumrah. He searched for a bowler who would get him the breakthrough and then as the day entered the final 20 minutes, he went to his ace.
Bumrah had been miserly all day. The first spell was 5-1-8-0. The second spell was 4-1-6-0. But the SA batters were set, they had guided their team to 74/2 after 36 overs. The pitch that was doing so much when India was batting in the second innings had just seemed to settle down – maybe it was just down to how well the Proteas had batted.
Van der Dussen, who has a pretty uncomplicated technique, had virtually shut shop by then. Bumrah perhaps sensed that. He defended the first ball solidly; got behind the second and did the same to the third. Nothing unnatural happening yet. The first three balls did nothing out of the ordinary. There was no indication to anyone watching that the fourth ball would be either. Bumrah had other ideas... he had set up the batter with the one that did not do anything special.
As he usually does, he delivered it from wide off the crease and angled it in. Van der Dussen, who had been in long enough, shouldered arms. But the ball came in sharply, beating the pad and hit the top of the off-stump. The batter was stunned. The commentators were stunned. But Bumrah wasn’t... for this is what he does. If this isn’t magic then what is?
Van der Dussen thought he had the line covered; thought there was nothing more he could do but Bumrah found a way past his resolute defence.
The pacer wasn’t done though.
Keshav Maharaj was sent up the order as a night-watchman. There were just 15 minutes left in the day, time enough for three overs.
The South Africans, though, were trying to make sure that they wouldn’t have to face three. Elgar indulged in some time-wasting and that agitated Kohli, who spoke to the umpire, trying to make sure they have enough balls at the batters. If you wanted drama at the fag end of a long day, you got it.
Maharaj can bat decently enough and as the match got into the final over of the day, he too seemed comfortable. A fact that was reinforced by a lovely backfoot punch off the third ball of the over. It was slightly back of length and the batter stood tall and found the gap.
The fourth ball was fuller. Maharaj got onto the front foot and defended well.
The fifth ball was the coup de resistance. A yorker that tailed into the leg-stump with such pace and movement that it might even have got better batters. Maharaj, even if he expected it, simply didn’t stand a chance. Bumrah’s celebration was to simply stare at Elgar (who was at the non-striker’s end), as if to say: ‘what was the point of trying to waste time’.
As CricViz later tweeted, “Since Jasprit Bumrah made his Test debut he has taken six wickets with yorkers - the most of any Test bowler in the world.”
He has the knack of bowling that ball that the batter hates.
Bumrah can go up a gear as few bowlers can – almost at will. For others, it is a matter of rhythm; of the conditions but from what we have seen in his career so far, he seemingly can will himself to go a little faster... to make the ball move that little bit more. And all this despite what should be a sore ankle, that he twisted on day three.
It was a short little burst at the end but the late strikes will give India even more confidence going into day five. The weather might play a role too but if it goes down to the wire, Kohli will know he can count on Bumrah to produce that little bit of magic.