The Proteas fought back to leave India three wickets down and trailing by 258 runs at stumps on day one at Newlands.
South Africa will go into day two of this contest with their tails up. Pitch conditions favoured the seam bowlers and so the batsmen were never really in a position to dominate across the day’s play. That said, the Proteas did well to guts their way to a competitive score of 286, and then claim the key wickets of Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, and Virat Kohli shortly before stumps.
India – spearheaded by the bustling Bhuvneshwar Kumar – made a statement when they reduced South Africa to 12-3 in the first 30 minutes of play. Earlier, Faf du Plessis won the toss and opted to bat. It was the India seamers who bossed the early exchanges to the point of dominance, though.
The Proteas’ response was emphatic. AB de Villiers, playing in his second Test after a lengthy absence from the Test arena, proceeded to counterattack in thrilling fashion.
In the ninth over, Kohli set an aggressive field and invited De Villiers to drive Kumar through the offside. De Villiers accepted the challenge, and managed to hit Kumar for four fours through the offside in one over.
De Villiers and Du Plessis guided the Proteas to lunch. They put on 114 runs for the fourth wicket before De Villiers attempted an ambitious drive and was bowled by debutant Jasprit Bumrah. Du Plessis departed soon afterwards, while Quinton de Kock contributed a quickfire 43 before receiving a great delivery by Kumar.
The Proteas went into this match with five bowlers. The decision left them with only six specialist batsmen, and when they were 202-6, that call was certainly under scrutiny.
The lower order showed some fight in testing conditions, though, to boost the team score to 286. Vernon Philander, Keshav Maharaj, and Kagiso Rabada all played positively to ensure that India didn’t have everything their own way.
India batted for 11 overs at the end of the day. Philander induced the edge from Murali Vijay and Dean Elgar at first slip made no mistake. The ball continued to move off the surface as the sun began its downward arc towards Table Mountain. One got the sense that India would suffer further losses before the close of play.
Dale Steyn, playing in his first Test since November 2016, received the loudest cheer of the day when he was given the ball at the Kelvin Grove End. Steyn hit the right areas almost immediately, and then brought the Newlands faithful to their feet when he removed Shikhar Dhawan in his second over.
A change in bowling at the Wynberg End paid immediate dividends. Morne Morkel charged toward Kohli and fired the delivery in short. The India captain – perhaps in a move to emulate De Villiers’ combative spirit – went after the delivery, but only succeeded in finding the edge.
That dismissal – such a key wicket in the context of Kohli’s importance to India – ensured that the Proteas finished the day with their noses well and truly in front.
SA 286 (1st innings) – AB de Villiers 65, Faf du Plessis 62, Bhuvneshwar Kumar 4-87, Ravi Ashwin 2-21
India 28-3 (1st innings) – Morne Morkel 1-0, Dale Steyn 1-13, Vernon Philander 1-13
India trail by 258 runs
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