IND vs SA: South Africa on top after Rabada & Co. demolish India

India, 97 for two at one stage, was bowled out for 187 with the subsequent batsmen, lacking application, save Bhuvneshwar Kumar who scored a valiant and valuable 30.

South African players celebrate the fall of an Indian wicket in Johannesburg on Wednesday.   -  AFP

The ball flew around at the Wanderers on Wednesday. Survival was hard as the sphere seamed, bounced and zipped off the green surface.

Batting called for technique, heart, and some luck. These qualities were displayed only by Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. 

The heavy artillery South African pace attack of contrasts made early in-roads, was then pegged back by fighting half-centuries from Kohli (54) and Pujara (50), before roaring back to hit the Indian innings hard again. 

India, 97 for two at one stage, was bowled out for 187 with the subsequent batsmen, lacking application, save Bhuvneshwar Kumar who scored a valiant and valuable 30.

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And the visitor struck an early blow when Bhuvneshwar seamed one away to find Aiden Markram’s edge. South Africa was six for one stumps on day one of the third Test.

It was brave of India to elect batting under a cloud-cover on this lively first day pitch here. There is a belief in the Indian camp that some cracks beneath the grass could be targeted by the seamers in the fourth innings. 

India was off to a bumpy start with Vernon Philander seaming one back and finding K.L. Rahul’s inside edge.

And M. Vijay, going for a big cover drive so early in his innings and nicking Kagiso Rabada, was simply not dishing out the kind of waiting game that brought him so much success on seaming pitches in the past.

Pujara, who took an eternity to open his account, was fortunate that South Africa did not go for a review after Ngidi nipped one back, but came up with an innings of substance under trying circumstances.

It was a well thought out innings by Pujara. He knew there was seam movement on this pitch and opted to play the line of the ball and not the deviation.

READ: Cheteshwar Pujara records yet another rare feat

Pujara was often beaten by the away movement but always seemed to be playing inside the line which was an illusion; he was actually shaping up for the line when the ball left the hand.

The ploy worked for Pujara. He could cope with the ball seaming away while the deliveries coming in would invariably take the inside edge negating leg-before opportunities.

But then, support seamer Andile Phehlukwayo eventually defeated Pujara’s game-plan by getting one to just move in a shade from outside off to kiss the edge. It was a vital strike.

Kohli did several things right in the innings. Importantly, he did not attempt to work deliveries on the off and middle to the on-side; du Plessis had kept the mid-wicket open again to lure the Indian captain into the stroke.

He played a lot more on the off-side – much of his cover driving with his front foot fully stretched out was imperious – and flicked only those deliveries that were pitched on leg.

He battled along with Pujara in the first session, curbing his natural instincts, defending, ‘leaving’ and nudging the ball around for runs.

In the session after lunch, Kohli opened out even as the sun came out. It was judicious batting.

He had his share of luck too, dropped on 11 and 32 by Philander (at wide mid-off) and AB de Villiers (in the cordon) off Rabada and Morkel.

Kohli fell, going for a hard drive and nicking a full-length delivery that shaped away from Lungi Ngidi to de Villiers at third slip.

For a side struggling for partnerships in the series, the 84-run third wicket association between Kohli and Pujara was worth much.

The innings lost its way though. Ajinkya Rahane, caught behind off a Philander no-ball, eventually fell to a marginal leg-before decision to a well- pitched up Morkel delivery on the leg.    

The left-handed Parthiv Patel was consumed on the cut by Morkel and Hardik Pandya, a touch too cocky for the situation, top-edged an attempted pull off the canny Phehlukwayo for ‘keeper Quinton de Kock to take a compelling catch running backwards and covering a lot of territory.

By then, India had lost a lot of ground.