This has been a Test match in which the finger and wrist-spinners could not have been far removed from the scene of action; Ravichandan Ashwin and Imran Tahir took much of the honours grabbing five wickets apiece in the first innings. But even so it would be a peculiar excuse, should a large group of specialist batsmen take refuge squarely blaming the pitch for their misery and downfall. The third Test match of the Paytm Freedom Series at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) stadium here is clearly hastening towards its conclusion on Friday itself.

With South Africa looking at a target of 310 runs, the home team brandishing spinners of the class of Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra would hope to wrap up the Test and the series without much fuss. The visitors have already lost an opener, the night-watchman whom coach Russell Domingo without joking said was sent in as a pinch hitter.

The bat did not score against the ball on the second day. But Hashim Amla’s decision to leave his ground immediately once Ajinkya Rahane cupped a catch that ballooned towards him at slip off the batsman's arm and bat reminded the cricket world that there are still some players who will not wait for the dreaded finger to go up. Things have not really gone in his favour in the ongoing series for Amla, who in most of the previous outings with the Indians has rarely returned to the dressing without a big score. His gesture to leave the middle with quiet dignity was a high point of the early minutes of the morning session.

The second day’s play began with the South African opener Dean Elgar under-edging a cut shot off Ashwin onto his stumps. Like Simon Harmer, Ashwin, too, delivered from round the wicket and wide of the crease, and the intended stock ball to Elgar did not turn; it held its line well outside the off stump and the left hander paid a heavy price for employing the horizontal shot in the fifth ball of the day. The South African team would have looked up to their captain to steady the rocking boat, but the bearded and bespectacled right hander fell to the gremlins that probably played enough mischief in his mind to have him employing the conventional sweep shot. The bold move backfired.

South Africa routed

The fall of two early wickets excited the Indian team and the sparse crowd alike, and the home team sensed a chance to rout the South Africans in the first innings once their chief tormentor in the series A.B. de Villiers failed to find a way keep a Jadeja down. The particular delivery stopped, climbed a bit, and a moment of his indecision led to a leading edge for the left-arm spinner to run towards short mid-on and convert the catch. It was the second time in five years and in 16 Test matches against India that de Villiers was dismissed without opening his account.

The visitors' first innings folded up for their lowest total against India in two hours and seven minutes with a handful of their batsmen responsible for playing injudicious shots. Given the license to hit out, J. P. Duminy, dropped by Virat Kohli at forward short leg, danced down the pitch to clout Jadeja for two sixes to help himself towards the highest individual score for his side. As South Africa collapsed for 79, Jadeja produced a gem to fox Dane Vilas with a delivery that dipped in and left the bat to hit the top of the off stump.

South Africa would find it hard to believe that they were bowled out in 33.1 overs; some credit though should go to Ashwin and Jadeja for exploiting the pitch which leg spinner Tahir did sending down 69 balls and dismissing half the Indian side in the second innings. Surely, Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane did not fall to the quirks of the pitch. After being cautious for two hours, Dhawan gifted his wiket and so did Kohli. The second wicket stand promised much and Pujara, who played some smart cricket, must be wondering how Duminy got the better of him. It was Dhawan exit’s caused by a faulty reverse sweep that set off a procession just as South Africa’s in the pre-lunch session.

India’s tail-end Mishra appeared to be completely flummoxed by a Tahir flipper that shook the middle and leg stumps. The Indian leg spinner had his revenge, winning a leg before appeal against Tahir as South Africa closed the day at 32 for two wickets, needing 278 to win the match in order to stay alive in the series. Tahir’s was the 20th wicket to fall on the second day; and some 15 minutes later Ashwin had some interesting things to say about the nature of the pitch.

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