Hashim Amla's experiment with the rarely-tested reserves of his team turned out to be one of the best moves for South Africa in the Freedom Series. In the four-match Test series, it came a little too late though.
Off-spinner Dane Piedt, replacing Simon Harmer, and Kyle Abbott, coming in the place of Kagiso Rabada, displayed how devastating accuracy can be after Indian captain Virat Kohli elected to bat on his home ground on a smoggy and wintry morning on the opening day of the fourth and final Test at the Ferozeshah Kotla here on Thursday.
With Piedt capturing four wickets and Abbott scalping three home batsmen, India struggled to get runs but recovered on the back of Ajinkya Rahane's gritty 89 to put up 231 for seven at close.
Abbott, who had made a comeback to feature in the washed out Bangalore Test, and Piedt, who played his second Test after his debut match against Zimbabwe in August 2014, grabbed the opportunity in both hands.
The hard working Abbott hit the perfect line and length to ask the right questions. He impressed by employing the new ball well in the morning session and returned to get some purchase with a hint of reverse swing.
Bowling intelligently, Piedt excelled with his precision and control. The South African operated within his limitations fiddling the length and flight subtly. He benefited when the Indian batsmen tried to release the pressure.
Despite spending one-and-a-half hours in the middle, Murali Vijay was in distinct discomfort due to the variable bounce. The opener, who had a reprieve when he was caught by AB de Villiers off a no ball from Abbott in the 12th over, was hit on his hand by the same bowler.
Vijay fell to Piedt in the following over. Drawn to play a shot, the opener edged it to Amla as the ball travelled straight.
India lost two wickets in the third and fourth overs after lunch.
Piedt set up a trap to snare Shikhar Dhawan. After greeting the left-hander with some turn, Piedt hit Dhawan's front pad with a delivery that held its line and convinced umpire Bruce Oxenford with one of the loudest appeals of his career.
Abbott bowled Cheteshwar Pujara after seven deliveries. The ball sneaked through a small opening, brushing Pujara's bat, to hit his stumps.
However, Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane steadied the boat. Adopting a positive approach, they worked the ball around and picked up boundaries at frequent intervals.
Kohli was impressive as he played late on a slow pitch to find the ropes mostly through cuts and pulls. Rahane played a perfect foil as the duo collected 70 runs off just 17 overs.
The Indian skipper departed when a stroke of luck provided the tireless Piedt his third wicket. Kohli pulled the off-spinner and gloveman Dane Vilas dived forward to pouch the ball that went up in the air after hitting short leg fielder Temba Bavuma. For a change, Kohli was caught 'forward' by the wicketkeeper.
The host was on the back foot as two more batsmen got out cheaply.
After being let off by Amla in the slips off Abbott, Rohit Sharma inexplicably hit Piedt straight to Imran Tahir at long on. Abbott castled Wriddhiman Saha as India lost five wickets.
Rahane, however, kept his cool to build another useful partnership of 59 runs with Ravindra Jadeja, and guide India to a respectable total. The Mumbaikar played the deliveries on merit and did not shy away from clubbing the loose ones to boundary.
Rahane, who drove and pulled with confidence, hammered Piedt on the onside for a six and a four in the same over to reach his eighth half-century and the first in India. Let off by Amla on 78, Rahane emerged the confident batsman he is known to be.
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