Pujara, Ashwin put India in driver's seat

India not only took a motivating lead of 17 runs, helped in large part by Ravichandran Ashwin's five wickets, but also swelled it to 142 by the end of the day’s play, thanks to a suit-the-situation performance by the unsung Cheteshwar Pujara.

Cheteshwar Pujara scored a grinding fifty to keep India ahead in the contest.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

Hashim Amla was out stumped after he charged down the track to Ravichandran Ashwin, and missed the ball, which deflected on to the stumps off wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha's chest.   -  Reuters

India drew on their collective energy to quell a South African resurgence on the second day of the first Test here. The bowlers delivered and thereafter, the batsmen took over the stage to ensure things fell in place after the first-innings debacle. India not only took a motivating lead of 17 runs but also swelled it to 142 by the end of the day’s play, thanks to a suit-the-situation performance by the unsung Cheteshwar Pujara.

At 125 for two and Pujara looking unflappable with a 63 that was so well constructed, it should do a world of good to his stature in Indian cricket. He, obviously, takes loads of confidence and satisfaction with him to the dressing room with this performance.

Pujara’s knock was a proof of his ability to adapt, and he did it flawlessly on a pitch that continues to demand application and discipline of a high degree.

South Africa wasted the good work done by their bowlers with their batsmen playing a flurry of self-destructive shots. It was evident that they panicked against a sustained Indian attack, where off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin led the comeback. His five-wicket haul was unsurprising given his ability to study and plot his ‘kills’. This was in keeping with his growing reputation as a bowler capable of winning matches on his own.

Ashwin had support from Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra, both striking when it mattered. South Africa, arguably the best team in the world, certainly did not bat like one. A decent partnership between Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar, threatening to take the game away from India, was cut short by a poor shot from Elgar after the batsman appeared set for the grind. This meant that South Africa could add only 156 runs to their overnight score despite Amla and Elgar putting on 76 runs for the third wicket.

An ungainly swipe led to the dismissal of Elgar, while an element of uncertainty troubled the South African skipper, who was apparently in a rush to gain ascendancy. Amla’s indiscretion of stepping out to Ashwin was the cause of his fall. The resultant stumping was providential though, with the ball deflecting off Wriddhiman Saha’s chest on to the stumps.

After a sedate pattern of scoring by Elgar and Amla, the arrival of AB de Villiers caused a flutter in the Indian ranks and the audience as well. Here was a batsman known to produce entertaining cricket, a batsman with little respect for the bowlers and steadfastly uncompromising in his approach.

De Villiers was a man in a hurry, sort of busy at the crease, innovating, hurting the bowlers and mocking the fielders. It took a quicker ball from Mishra to terminate his innings. Earlier, he was ruffled when on seven, caught by Kohli, but off a no-ball by Jadeja.

India put up an improved performance in the second innings. Murali Vijay and Pujara, the two grafters in the team, repaired the Indian innings after Shikhar Dhawan, again taken at slip, collected a ‘pair’. The 86-run stand between Vijay and Pujara ended as substitute Temba Bavuma held a spectacular catch at short leg by diving to his left.

The absence of Dale Steyn, nursing a groin injury, was a comforting thought for the Indians and they made the most of it.

Pujara signed off with a crassly pulled six off Tahir in the last over, which was an antithesis of the day’s cricket. It may have lacked the sublime touch of a man in form, but carried the much-needed punch to propel India’s hopes ahead of the third day.

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