When Keshav Maharaj walked in to bat at the Maharashtra Cricket Association International Stadium on Saturday afternoon, South Africa had just lost its eighth wicket.
Minutes ago, captain and the team’s most experienced batsman, Faf du Plessis -- who played a knock of 64 -- was dismissed by Ravichandran Ashwin. With just 162 runs on the board, it looked evident that the Proteas’ end was near.
The Indian bowlers, by then, had firm control over the game and only a miracle could have saved the day for South Africa.
The 28-year-old Maharaj -- who suffered a shoulder injury earlier in the game and had to undergo a series of scans -- however, looked unperturbed.
He quietly took his guard, allowed himself to settle down and then paired with Vernon Philander to forge a long 109-run partnership for the ninth wicket, before India eventually bowled out South Africa for 275 at the end of third day.
Maharaj brought up his first Test half-century, playing a solid knock of 72 before being caught by Rohit Sharma off Ashwin at the fag end of the day.
Philander, too, ensured that his slow but steady unbeaten knock of 44 not only frustrated the Indian bowlers, but also helped his team show some resilience.
Even though South Africa is still 326 runs behind India’s mammoth first innings score of 601-5 declared -- and a possibility of India imposing a follow-on remains -- the Maharaj-Philander partnership did come as a morale booster for the visiting side, which struggled with the willow.
On a track that has sort of been a mystery over the last couple of days, it was not an easy task to bat on for 43 overs, especially against Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
But the two kept their cool and ensured that if the first two sessions belonged to Mohammad Shami, Ashwin -- who claimed four wickets -- and Jadeja, the last session would be dominated by them.
And that was clear in their approach. With no hurry, the two batted at ease as the Indian bowlers struggled to find a breakthrough.
However, the story was entirely different in the morning. Resuming the day at the overnight score of 36-3, South Africa soon lost two wickets of Anrich Nortje and Theunis de Bruyn -- who had to walk back, courtesy an acrobatic catch from Wriddhiman Saha off Umesh Yadav.
Du Plessis and Quinton de Kock stitched a 75-run stand to put some fight, but that was not enough as de Kock was cleaned up by Ashwin for 31, just when he looked all set for a big knock.
In the post lunch session, Jadeja and Ashwin took control as Senuran Muthsamy (7) was trapped before by the former, while Ashwin finally sent du Plessis packing.
Just like the 13,000 odd fans who had come in, the Indian team also thought that it was a matter of time to bundle out the struggling Proteas in the first innings, but Maharaj and Philander had other plans.
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