South Africa were 65-2 and enjoyed a 142-run lead at stumps on day two at Newlands.
India will not go down without a fight. This much was clear when Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma batted for much of the first session and then Hardik Pandya shifted gear after lunch to transfer the pressure back on to South Africa.
If not for Pandya’s whirlwind knock of 93, India may have struggled to post much more than 120. As it was, Pandya and Bhuvneshwar Kumar clubbed together for a 99-run partnership that boosted the tourists’ total to 209, some 77 runs short of South Africa’s 286.
The Proteas’ excellent bowling and fielding performance on day two was marred by one incident. As fate would have it, that incident – a dropped catch – gifted India an opportunity to get themselves back into the contest.
Vernon Philander claimed two wickets immediately after lunch to put the Proteas on top. India were in deep trouble at 91-6 when Pandya slashed at a Dale Steyn delivery. The ball travelled quickly to Dean Elgar at gully, but at a catchable height.
The opportunity went down. Pandya was on 15 at the time.
What followed was a case study in good counterattacking batting. On day one, the Newlands crowd was treated to an AB de Villiers masterclass. In the same manner, Pandya seized the initiative on day two, smashing 93 off 95 balls.
It wasn’t as if the pitch flattened out. Indeed, in the period leading up to his dismissal, Pandya was forced to bob and weave as Kagiso Rabada aimed a series of short deliveries at the batsman’s body. When Rabada finally got his man out caught behind, captain Faf du Plessis raced over and planted a kiss on the fast bowler’s forehead.
The Proteas might feel that they let India off the hook with that dropped catch. There was further cause for disappointment shortly before tea when Dale Steyn left the field with what was later described as a bruised heel.
Steyn won’t bowl again in this contest. He looked to have found form on day two, landing the ball on a difficult length and taking it away from the right-handed batsman at express pace, before he sustained his latest injury.
Steyn needs just three more wickets to surpass Shaun Pollock as South Africa’s most prolific Test bowler. It would be a great pity – and indeed a big blow to South Africa – if that injury is revealed as serious.
The Proteas made a solid start to their second innings late on day two. Elgar offered up a chance after mistiming a pull shot in the second over. From there, the Proteas openers endeavoured to combat the India bowlers in seam-friendly conditions and boost the team’s lead beyond the 100-mark.
The partnership was broken, however, shortly before stumps. Pandya and Kumar combined once again for India, the former inviting Aiden Markram to pull a short delivery and the latter taking the catch on the off-side.
Pandya claimed another big scalp, and a timely one too, when he had Elgar caught behind thereafter. Once again, just as the Proteas were beginning to take control, India hit back.
The first session on day three will be crucial for both teams. South Africa are still well placed in terms of their lead. If India make further inroads into that middle order, however, their chances of winning the game and taking a 1-0 lead in the series will improve significantly.
SA 286 (1st innings) – AB de Villiers 65, Faf du Plessis 62, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-87, Ravi Ashwin 2-21
India 209 (1st innings) – Hardik Pandya 93, Cheteshwar Pujara 26, Vernon Philander 3-33, Kagiso Rabada 3-34
SA 65-2 (2nd innings) – Aiden Markram 34, Dean Elgar 25, Hardik Pandya 2-17
South Africa lead by 142 runs