India played superbly to fight back at the Wanderers and show they’re not just flat track bullies.
One of the oldest truism’s about Test cricket proved spot on as South Africa gained a first innings lead of seven runs over India in the final Test of their series, at the Wanderers.
They always say one should never judge a Test pitch until both sides have batted on it. How true. India’s 187 had looked woefully short, until South Africa replied with 194.
On day one Virat Kohli won the toss and elected to bat on a Wanderers surface aiding the bowling, tinged with green under cloudy skies and with a damp outfield, facing a South African pace attack that has already been ridiculously favourably compared to the best West Indies quartets in their prime.
I thought batting first was a misjudgment by Kohli. How wrong I was.
Still, for all money it seemed as though South Africa had done the job in bowling out India for 187. Only three batsmen reached double figures, although a telling statistic in that total was Mr Extras: 26, which included 11 byes, two no balls and six wides. South Africa also dropped Kohli twice and had a Vernon Philander wicket reversed when replays showed he’d bowled a rare no ball.
In hindsight, India should have been all out for less than 150, but South Africa were sloppy in the field. ‘Dead rubber fatigue’, perhaps? Summed up by Kagiso Rabada playing in a shirt that the average fan can buy at the local sports store? No Test number on the left breast, unbefitting the world’s No2-ranked fast bowler playing for the No2-ranked Test side in the world. These are highly-paid professionals, not a side comprising enthusiasts playing in the park.
Perhaps South Africa came into this final Test already sipping the fruits of a successful Test series win over India, 2-0 up with one to go?
That’s certainly the way it appeared on day two as India won their first full day’s play in what was the 10th day of actual play during this series. I had, on day one of the opening Test at Newlands, called a 3-0 series victory for South Africa and likened it to the famous slugfest between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. That fight went three rounds and ended in a KO for Hagler.
Interestingly, the bookies, entering day three, still have South Africa as favourites, 8-10 against India’s 14-10, and that is despite India dominating the second day.
India were superb on day two, starting on the back foot but bowling South Africa out for 194 and then moving to 49-1 at stumps, at a run rate of 2.88, which is also impressive, given that most would have expected the vaunted ‘Four Horsemen’ of the Proteas to have made significant inroads into the Indian batting line up in the 17 overs they bowled before stumps were called.
This was a day when India stood toe-to-toe with South Africa and beat them at their own game. India’s four seamers bowled better lines and lengths on a track where the ball still moved prodigiously – Jasprit Bumrah’s bowling of Faf du Plessis as the captain shouldered arms being a prime example – and they followed up their effort in the field with an innovative change when they batted second.
Kohli, in five innings so far, had thus far never come to the crease later than the 12th over batting at No 4. As such, he has always been exposed to the new Kookaburra ball against a South African pace attack with their tails in the air. But, being seven runs behind on the first innings, India sent in the left-hander wicketkeeper-batsman Parthiv Patel to open the batting.
It would have been like South Africa opening with Quinton de Kock. It changed the opening batting combination to a right-left and forced Rabada and Vernon Philander to change their lines of attack. Patel only lasted till the fifth over and fell with the score only at 17, but they were significant runs. By the time he departed, India were effectively 10-1. One might have expected Kohli to have been at the crease already, given this series’ ‘history’. And any lead on what has been a lottery of a Wanderers pitch is significant.
By the close of play India had stretched out to 49-1 and a lead of 42. South Africa have, in large parts, not bowled the right line, nor length, and left too many to go past the bat outside off stump. Perhaps the ‘Four Horsemen’ have been believing the hype about them too much; that all they had to do was get the ball and send it down to the other end and that India would crumble.
It hasn’t happened in the second innings, thus far. It might still, but this was India’s day. And one needs to congratulate them for showing the fight that many didn’t believe was in them on bowler-friendly pitches. Day two at the Wanderers belonged to India and South Africa need to respond strongly on day three or face the consequences.
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