IND vs SA: Kohli keeps India in the hunt

As the curtain came down on an eventful day two of the second Test at SuperSport Park, India, pursuing South Africa’s first innings 335, was 183 for five.

Virat Kohli plays a shot in Centurion on Sunday.   -  AFP

Digging in deep, Virat Kohli battled hard to keep his team afloat even as the resourceful South Africans kept chipping away at Indian line-up here on Sunday.

As the curtain came down on an eventful day two of the second Test at SuperSport Park, India, pursuing South Africa’s first innings 335, was 183 for five.

Kohli was batting on 85 (130b, 8x4) at stumps. Keeping the skipper company was a pugnacious Hardik Pandya (11 batting).

The pitch was nowhere close to the seam-trap that Newlands was in the first Test, but Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and debutant Lungi Ngidi did manage to extract some bounce and carry from the surface employing their height and shoulder.

Given that there was less sideways movement off the seam here, Vernon Philander was not much of a factor. There could, however, be variable bounce in the pitch as the game progresses.

SCOREBOARD AND BALL-BY-BALL DETAILS

It was a day when Kohli held centre-stage. The Indian captain batted with poise, absorbed the pressure, and found the balance between attack and defence.

He cover-drove with panache, his body and mind moving in harmony. Kohli’s off drive off Morkel was all about timing. Then, he eased the paceman down the ground.

When Rabada got his line line wrong, Kohli whipped him past the mid-wicket fence. When Rabada dug them in short, Kohli got on top of the bounce.

Before he fatally chose to cut a delivery from left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj that was not quite short enough for the stroke, opener M. Vijay (46) batted with balance and composure.

Apart from displaying a solid defence and ‘leaving’ deliveries outside off, he cover-drove Rabada, cut Philander and whipped Morkel for boundaries. But then, Vijay should have converted this innings into a much bigger score.

The 79-run third-wicket partnership between Kohli and Vijay lifted India from a troubling 29 for two when Pujara was dismissed, but then the South Africans has a sniff again after this partnership was broken.

Rohit Sharma, seeking runs and picked ahead of Ajinkya Rahane for the Test, did not last long, trapped leg-before by a Rabada delivery that came back. On these tracks, his game needs to be tighter, Rohit can’t always attempt to strike the ball on the up.

There was more success for South Africa as the evening wore on. Debutant Lungi Ngidi, generating pace and bounce from a rather open-chested action, got one to move away from the left-handed Parthiv Patel to find the edge.

Parthiv, till that point, had batted with a measure of comfort.

Earlier, the Indian openers Vijay and Rahul appeared confident. There was a lot less seam movement for the pacemen than what we saw at Newlands.

Rahul seemed in good touch but drove at a Morkel delivery without quite getting to the pitch of a ball that shaped in slightly. The tall paceman delightfully accepted the scooped-up return catch.

Then disaster struck Cheteshwar Pujara and the Indian camp. The batsman played Morkel to mid-on and took off. Ngidi, swift on the ball, unleashed a rocket throw that caught a desperately diving Pujara short of his ground at the non-striker’s end.

There was little need for a risky single at that stage even if the Indian captains talks a lot about ‘intent.’ Pujara seemed gutted as he walked back.

In the morning, the Indians once again allowed the South African tail to add some valuable runs with skipper Faf du Plessis. Chances were spilled and the attack lacked the cutting edge.

du Plessis blended caution and aggression, shielding the tail-enders, putting the bad deliveries away, and taking the total close to 350.

The South African captain might not be the most fluent batsmen around but the tightness in his game is hard to ignore.

du Plessis straight-drove Shami and then forced him through covers for boundaries. du Plessis’ feet were moving well.

du Plessis was confident against Ashwin, sweeping the off-spinner past the ropes. When Ashwin gave him slight width, the bowler was cut past the ropes. And du Plessis jumped out to strike the sphere over mid-wicket when Ashwin gave the ball air.

Eventually, du Plessis, running out of partners, missed a swipe off a hard-working Ishant to see his stumps re-arranged. It was a captain’s innings.  

At the other end, Mohammad Shami, running in well and taking the ball away from the off-stump, had Keshav Maharaj caught behind.

The left-handed Rabada, clueless against R. Ashwin, as he bowled his off-spin, the flipper, the carrom ball and the top-spinner, was dropped on one at slip by Kohli and then saw Pandya at point and Shami, running in from short third man, distracting each other as another catch was spilled off the very next delivery.

Eventually, Rabada was well held by a diving Pandya at deep cover when he could not keep a pull of Ishant down. Soon, Ashwin got his fourth wicket when he had Morkel taken at the cover fence. The off-spinner bowled with control and variations. 

The Indians have a fight on their hands.