IND vs SA: South Africa puts the pressure back on India

India, replying to South Africa’s 286, was tottering at 28 for three at stumps of the opening day of the first Test on a sun-lit day of fortune swings at Newlands.

Shikhar Dhawan hits a high ball which saw him dismissed for 16 at Newlands Stadium in Cape Town on Friday.   -  AP

How quickly things can change in cricket! Bhuvneshwar Kumar had South Africa reeling in the morning. The host recovered.

Then the head-hunting South African pacemen, smelling blood, were upon the Indian batsmen like a pack of wolves in the final session.

India, replying to South Africa’s 286, was tottering at 28 for three at stumps of the opening day of the first Test on a sun-lit day of fortune swings at Newlands.

Cricket on Friday was view was gripping for most part. The pacemen extracted bounce and seam movement. The South African batsmen went for their shots and the outfield was quick. 

South Africa hit India hard in the last session. M. Vijay, uncharacteristically, playing away from the body, nicked Vernon Philander to gully. The Indian opener needs to stick to his patient leaving-the-ball-outside-off game.

Scoreboard and ball-by-ball details

Then, the left-handed Shikhar Dhawan top-edged an attempted pull off Dale Steyn. The great fast bowler ran in beautifully and his release was typically smooth yet explosive.

Then, Indian captain Virat Kohli edged a delivery of pace and bounce but well outside off from Morne Morkel. The Indians need to be tight on or around the off-stump.  

It seemed astonishing that South Africa, a batsman short after picking four specialist pacemen, opted to bat. Or was the host training its thoughts on the cracks on the surface and the prospect of batting last on this pitch if it fielded first?

Bhuvneshwar Kumar impressed in the morning. The feature of his bowling is his seam position; it’s firm and upright.

And he pitched on a good length around off, the sort of area where the batsman, with seeds of doubts in their mind, can end up neither moving forward nor back. 

Shifting his line admirably to southpaw Dean Elgar, Bhuvneshwar found the nick with a ball that moved away, then he set up and consumed the right-handed Aiden Markram with one that came back sharply. Soon, Bhuvneshwar netted the big fish, Hashim Amla, who succumbed to an ambitious shot outside off.

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de Villiers (65) counter-attacked. Like most batsmen he picks the length a shade faster than the others, is decisive in his feet movement and gets into position quickly.

This coupled with his reflexes and bat speed enables him have more than one option against a delivery. Some of de Villiers’ strokes were spectacular, the cover-drives and the cuts off Bhuvneshwar racing to the fence.

Faf du Plessis is a well-round batsman with a secure defence. There is an inherent solidity in his game that is hard to miss.

He drove pleasingly through the off-side, flicked with panache. de Villiers and du Plessis pegged back the Indian attack.

The fourth wicket pair had added 114 vital runs when de Villiers played on to a quick fuller length delivery from Burhah to hand the debutant his first Test scalp.

du Plessis (62) was looking good for more when he, fatally, chose to cut a Hardik Pandya delivery too full for the stroke.

The left-handed Quinton de Kock (43), a gifted batsman, kept up the momentum with some delectable strokeplay, gliding Ashwin and whipping Bhuvneshwar.

But then, the crafty Bhuvneshwar snared him with a delivery that left the southpaw ever so slightly to find the edge.

The Indians, however, conceded valuable runs towards the end with Philander, Maharaj and Rabada making important contributions to take South Africa close to the 300-run mark.

Ashwin got into the act towards the end, scoring a direct hit from mid-on to end Maharaj’s tenure, removing Rabada with extra bounce and trapping Morkel leg-before.

 ‘Keeper Wriddhiman Saha was sharp behind the stumps, latching on to five catches.

Mohammed Shami bowled with pace but could not get quite his line right. Bumrah impressed in patches but needs to settle down on a consistent line in Test cricket.

The Indian pacemen erred in pitched a tad too short to the South African tailenders. Their length should have been more up.

These extra runs conceded could prove costly for India.