The radiant band in the stands played to an infectious rhythm and the flow and tempo of Hashim Amla’s batting was in tune with the foot-tapping music on a bright, sunny Saturday here.
Then came a riveting moment and the contest changed course rather dramatically in the final hour at the SuperSport Park.
Sprinting like a gazelle in the land of the big cats, Hardik Pandya fielded the ball off his own bowling after Amla (82) had kept a lifter down and taken off for a run.
Pandya, then, swirled around in the manner of a ballet dancer to unleash a sizzling throw that caught Amla short of the crease at the non-striker’s end.
South Africa was 246 for three before the dismissal of Amla. The host slid to 269 for six at close on the first day of the second Test.
Off-spinner R. Ashwin, bowling with control and craft on a first day pitch offering him some assistance, had southpaw Quinton de Kock taken smartly by skipper Virat Kohli at slip and Vernon Philander, committing harakiri, became another run-out victim.
Scoreboard and ball-by-ball details
To their credit, the Indians, losing what could turn out to be a crucial toss on a surface that could become drier, harder and quicker, hung in there despite the South African onslaught.
Earlier in the day, young opener Aiden Markram impressed for South Africa with a 94 of rousing strokeplay on a pitch that, on day one, had far less in it for the pacemen than the track at Newlands.
Markram was light on his feet and heavy with his strokes, driving, flicking and pulling the pacemen, dancing down to Ashwin, and forcing the ball through the gaps with a sharp shooter’s precision.
He has a forward press but does not commit himself and can quickly shift weight to his back-foot. In fact, some of his back-foot drives and punches between point and cover from a flourishing back-lift screamed for attention.
Things could have been better for India had they clung to catches. Dean Elgar was on 14 when M. Vijay misjudged a miscued pull at deep square-leg; Jasprit Bumrah was the bowler.
And when Amla was 30, ‘keeper Parthiv Patel, in for the injured Wriddhiman Saha, anticipated rather late to a leg-side nick. Ishant, who had come in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, looked up in anguish.
Amla cashed in, batting with elegance and poise, driving the pacemen through the off-side, cutting and pulling the short balls and bringing his dexterous wrists into play to coax the ball through mid-wicket. And he skipped down to Ashwin for the cover-drives.
For India, Ashwin, given long spells, bowled well. He has worked on his action and is attempting to get a lot less chest-on at release. Resultantly, he is pivoting, getting his body into his action and imparting more revs on the ball.
He got the ball to drift in, varied his trajectory and consumed Markram, within a stroke of a hundred, with the one that spun away from the right-hander.
Ashwin, troubled the left-handed Elgar with his flight and turn before scalping the opener and end the 85-run opening stand.
Stepping out to a delivery held back by Ashwin, Elgar drove uppishly but a leaping M. Vijay somehow managed to cling on to the ball once it got stuck on his body at silly point.
Ashwin bowled over and round the wicket, harnessed the angles. There were times, when to stem flow of runs, he performed a defensive role too with middle-and leg line and a packed on-side field.
For South Africa, the effervescent de Villiers sparkled briefly – he reverse-swept Ashwin – before dragging a widish Ishant delivery on to his stumps.
Ishant kept his end up but needed to bowl the off-stump line more. Mohammad Shami, who left the field owing to a headache, did not have the best of days and Bumrah needs to work on the ball that leaves the batsman to add variety to his bowling.
Pandya was patchy with the ball but conjured a moment of possibly game-changing magic.
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