“Bhaad mein gaya pitch [to hell with the pitch], 20 wickets and the [World Test Championship] points are what we are after,” coach Ravi Shastri told Star Sports after India wrapped up the Ranchi Test against South Africa to seal the series 3-0.
India needed just 12 balls on the fourth morning to take the remaining two wickets, and extend their dominance at the top of the WTC table with 240 points. But they didn’t follow the age-old template of ‘spin to win’ at home. It was their fast bowling duo of Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav who made the ball talk and had South Africa’s batsmen jumping and hopping before being sucker-punched.
“Our aim was to take the pitches out of the equation,” Shastri said. “You have to take 20 wickets, whether it’s Johannesburg, Mumbai, Delhi, Auckland or even Melbourne where we won [against Australia]. So the task was to take 20 wickets. How do you do that? For that, you need fast bowlers, spinners, a complete bowling unit.
“Once you take 20 wickets, with the batsmen we have, if that clicks, it’s like a Ferrari. The batting line-up we have, with Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, [Cheteshwar] Pujara, Mayank Agarwal, if they start scoring, and then you have five bowlers who can take 20 wickets.”
Apart from the fast bowlers coming to the fore, Rohit Sharma left his imprint as a Test opener. Having started the series with twin hundreds in the Visakhapatnam, he capped it off with a maiden Test double-ton to set up India’s innings victory. Ajinkya Rahane played one of his more fluent knocks to make a century, as the pair set up a big first-innings total.
Along the way, Rahane may have quelled notions of his form being patchy, and Shastri had no such doubts. “Ajinkya Rahane was always there, he never going anywhere as a middle-order batsman,” he said. “His scene was he had to rediscover himself and he did that. Rohit Sharma’s is a different scenario altogether. As an opener, your mindset has to be different. As an opening batsman, you can be dismissed within the first ten balls.
“You don’t know how the pitch will behave. On the first day here, it was a difficult pitch but he endured. First two hours he faced everything; he had to leave the balls, was beaten, was struck on the pad but his thinking was he needed to survive those two hours, maybe the wicket will be good to bat on after lunch. And that’s what exactly happened.
“As an opening batsman, the mindset is you can be dismissed off the first ball itself. If there is help from the pitch, bowlers would beat you ten times. You may look ugly as well. But you have to survive that period. Because once that period is gone, there is only one dada [boss], the opening batsman. And when an opener scores 150-200, the job satisfaction he gets, that no one else can get. So what Rohit did in this series was tremendous.”
Shastri was equally delighted for debutant Shahbaz Nadeem, calling it a debut well earned after 15 years of toil in first-class cricket. The left-arm spinner picked up four wickets apart from effecting a superb run-out late on the third day.
“Extremely impressed,” Shastri, himself a left-arm spinner, said of Nadeem. “Yesterday [on Monday], when he got his first wicket, I was saying if Bishan Singh [Bedi] is watching, it would be a glass upstairs, ‘Cheers young man, beautifully bowled’. He has a classic left-arm spinner’s action, he comes over the top, great wrist position, the way he gets the ball to go up in the air and dip. That was a spinner’s delight.
— Bishan Bedi (@BishanBedi) October 21, 2019
“I never spun the ball that much, I never had that kind of loop or dip but to just watch it from the outside, it was classical. Four-hundred-and-twenty-plus wickets, the guy has put in the yards, it’s about time he gets the distance. I am glad he finished off this game, in front of his home crowd. Starting your first Test matches and take four wickets.
“What was remarkable was the way he started. There were no nerves, first three overs maidens. Every ball on the spot. It’s a testament to the fact that this guy has played so much of domestic cricket that for him a Test match or a first-class game is the same. He just has to come out and do his job, batsmen will change their [approach] but nothing that he does has to change.”