Tests, and series, don't always need great spells of bowling to turn on. You can analyse all the lines and lengths bowled by the bowlers, you can look at the discipline shown by the batsmen, and then one piece of exceptional awareness in the field creates a run-out, there is some panic, and you now have your best chance to win a Test in South Africa. The pitch doesn't have much pace or seam movement, the ball has been turning since the first session of the Test, and despite losing the toss, India have a chance to roll South Africa over for around 300.
Credit has to go to Hardik Pandya for changing direction in his follow-through, fielding a ball almost at square leg, turning around and going for and achieving a direct hit at the end that the batsman - Hashim Amla, slower of the two at that time - didn't expect action. Credit has to also go to Pandya and Ishant Sharma for going under three an over to help R Ashwin, who was the surprise strike option with three hard-earned wickets in 30 overs on day one.
The special fielding and the panic in South Africa's batting has given India a great chance in this Test, but this was a lifeline. Test cricket, especially when you are playing away from home and trailing in a series, doesn't throw up many lifelines. If India have to rely on their spinner and their support bowler and his fielding, they can still mess up this opportunity. Ashwin said the pitch turned only because of the dampness in the morning, which means the fast bowlers might still be the ones to win or lose the Test. It will take a big improvement from their fast bowlers if that is the case.
It is ironic that one of the three chances India's fast bowlers created all day long was for a catch down the leg side, which, of course, was dropped by the wicketkeeper, playing this match because of a late hamstring niggle to the first-choice wicketkeeper, whose batting happens to have not looked good against pace and bounce in the last Test. If India's team management managed to confound with new selection shenanigans, their lead bowlers took the expected route of profligacy.
The figures of India's fast bowlers flattered them in Cape Town. No matter how much you salivate over the comeback made - in extremely favourable bowling conditions - to bowl South Africa out for 130 in the second innings, it was Mohammed Shami's leg-side offerings and Jasprit Bumrah's half-volleys that let South Africa score the extra 70 runs in the first innings, which proved to be the difference in the two sides. Having selected a team based on "current form" for the last Test, India proceeded to drop their best bowler and the man who faced the most balls, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, for the second Test.
India lost a big toss, but this was still their best chance in this series because the ball began to turn appreciably in the first session of the Test. Their batsmen can have no excuse here other than scoreboard pressure. What India needed on such a pitch was for their fast bowlers to create pressure from one end and let Ashwin strike from the other. What India got was an economy rate of 4.18 from Shami and 3.16 from Bumrah despite a late slowdown.
Shami's generosity began as early as the fourth over of the day. Having escaped a cut shot when he bowled short and wide, he bowled wide again, this time to be put away through covers. Immediately, he asked for extra protection in the covers, but bowled on the pads to be put away through midwicket. By the next over, India had a deep point in place. Ishant was on by the eighth over.
Ishant helped put the brakes on, but Shami came back to release the pressure in the 11th over. Two half-volleys were put away for boundaries, two leg-side offerings produced five runs, and the 13-run over pushed the run rate back over three. In the first hour of the Test, India were reduced to asking Pandya to hide the ball well outside off, which he did as ordered. The run rate had come down only for Bumrah to bowl a leg-side half-volley and another short-and-wide delivery in his first over back.
For large sections of the day, India continued to bowl poorly and the fielders didn't set the world on fire either. M Vijay misjudged a catch at fine leg, Parthiv Patel dropped Amla, and there was more than the odd occasion of infielders putting in hopeless dives to avoid long chases. By tea, 76 of the 129 runs scored off the fast bowlers had come on the leg side, in a country where you are well served to attack the batsmen just outside off.
Ashwin, meanwhile, had gone from making a great start to bowling defensive lines and also a few loose balls to coming back to finding a good rhythm, which also involved bowling from round the stumps. It was Ishant and Pandya, who showed more Test-match discipline than India's two strike forces, who kept South Africa's run rate from getting out of hand. Only 20 leg-side runs were conceded by the quicks in the final session; it is no surprise Shami and Bumrah didn't have to bowl much in this session.
Then came the piece of magic from Pandya that combined with Test-match discipline of Ashwin. It shouldn't always take pieces of magic, though. There are still 14 wickets to be taken, and India would not want to rely only on magic for them.