The Proteas produced a combative all-round performance to reduce India to 183-5 at stumps on day two at Centurion.
India came into day two in a strong position. Conditions were at their best for batting in the second and third sessions, and one would have expected the visitors to chip away at the deficit, and finish the day on top.
The Proteas simply refused to go away, though. Every time India looked like they might crack on and take control of this contest, South Africa hit back.
The hosts will head into day three – a crucial day in the context of this match and the series – with confidence and momentum. They’ve already claimed five of India’s first-innings wickets. They must be favourites to take a healthy lead into the second dig and post a significant score.
Faf du Plessis and the lower-order fought hard in the first session of day two to ensure that the Proteas posted a competitive 335. At one stage, when the Proteas were 182-2 at tea on day one, the hosts looked to be on course for 400. After finishing day one on 269-6, however, Du Plessis and company must have been pleased with the rearguard that boosted them close to the 350-mark.
India’s fielding let them down in the first session. The visitors dropped three catches during that period. A sharper showing may have seen South Africa finishing on 300 or less.
Ravi Ashwin finished with figures of 4-113. Conditions at Centurion had begun to resemble those in India. While the pitch was good for batting, there was likewise something on offer for the spinners.
Nevertheless, the Proteas seamers stuck to their task. Lokesh Rahul knocked the ball back to Morne Morkel in the 10th over. The very next delivery, debutant Lungi Ngidi swooped to run out Cheteshwar Pujara. Suddenly India were in a bit of trouble at 28-2.
Virat Kohli took the fight to the Proteas, smashing Morkel for consecutive boundaries early on in his innings. Kohli and Murali Vijay looked to be in complete control against the seamers, who weren’t receiving any assistance from the pitch.
Keshav Maharaj got the hosts back into the game. The off-spinner pushed the ball through a little quicker and closer to the body of Vijay. Cramped for space, the opening batsman attempted to cut but only succeeded in edging the ball to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
Rabada, who was involved in a heated exchange with Kohli late in the day, accounted for Rohit Sharma. After taking the ball away from the right-handed batsman on several occasions, Rabada beat Sharma with a ball that jagged back in.
Sharma was given out lbw, and his subsequent review proved unsuccessful. Rabada’s vocal celebration highlighted the importance of the wicket.
Ngidi claimed his first Test wicket when he got Parthiv Patel caught behind. At 164-5, India were in danger of collapsing.
Kohli and Hardki Pandya managed to see out the remainder of the session. Much will depend on these two batsmen when play resumes on day three. Kohli appeared in terrific touch on day two, and will be looking to crack on and complete his century on day three.
India don’t have much batting to come, though, in Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma. Perhaps this will influence India and Kohli’s approach going forward.
South Africa can strengthen their position with early wickets on day three. Thereafter, they should have the opportunity to set India a formidable target.
The pitch is expected to deteriorate on days four and five, and so India may be hard-pressed to chase down anything over 350.
SA 335 (1st innings) – Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82, Ravi Ashwin 4-113, Ishant Sharma 3-46
India 183-5 (1st innings) – Virat Kohli 85 not out, Murali Vijay 46, Morne Morkel 1-47, Lungi Ngidi 1-26
India trail by 152 runs
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix