INDIA TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018
Virat Kohli scored an unbeaten 85 to hold one end up for India on Day 2. © BCCI
The second Test might not have the same thrill-rate as the first, but it is matching it for competitiveness. Two days have now passed, and at the end of each of them you would be hard-pressed to pick a winner. Playing in conditions that were almost as much Hyderabad as Highveld, India closed the second day on 183 for 5, still trailing South Africa’s first-innings total by 152. They may have a long way to go, but with a determined Virat Kohli unbeaten on 85 and Hardik Pandya still there, anything is possible.
Most Tests look attritional when they are stacked up against the action seen at Newlands, but Sunday (January 14) was truly a day when both batsmen and bowlers were made to work hard for success. Just 249 runs were scored at a rate of 2.9 per over, while a total of nine wickets fell, three of those being South African tailenders. There was some ebb and flow and the odd engaging contest between individuals, but it was also the sort of day when one could enjoy a Sunday afternoon nap on the grass embankment without feeling guilty.
The nature of the day was apparent from early on, when Faf du Plessis emerged bristling with intent but found that, with the ball failing to come onto the bat, runs were hard to come by. With the second new ball just a few overs old, India’s seamers were also making life difficult. Unfortunately for them, the fielders were making things difficult for the tourists.
After Keshav Maharaj had edged Mohammed Shami behind for 18, Ravichandran Ashwin saw three catches dropped off his bowling, essentially denying him what would have been a rare five-wicket haul by a spinner at Centurion. First Kagiso Rabada was put down twice in two balls – South Africa were 289 for 7 for the first, which saw Kohli miss a chance at slip – and then du Plessis was dropped on 54 by Parthiv Patel.
The missed opportunities allowed du Plessis and Rabada to add 42 for the eighth wicket before the latter pulled Ishant Sharma out to deep square leg and was well caught by Pandya. Du Plessis went in Ishant’s next over, bowled as he swung for the fences, to depart for a 63 that was more valuable than the number alone suggested. His skillful shepherding of a long tail allowed South Africa to add 84 for their last four wickets, which looks likely to be crucial. Ishant’s second-day burst allowed him to finish with 3 for 46 while Ashwin took 4 for 113 from almost 39 overs – he polished off the innings by dismissing Morne Morkel.
With one over to bowl before Lunch, du Plessis threw the ball to Maharaj for an experiment that only allowed Murali Vijay to bunt a full toss to the boundary. After the interval South Africa reverted to their traditional strengths, but found little assistance as the Indian openers reached 28 without drama. That absence was made up for in the space of just two deliveries.
KL Rahul confirmed that the lack of pace in the pitch would be India’s main challenge when he nudged a full delivery from Morkel back to the bowler, and then there was a moment of madness from Cheteshwar Pujara. The No. 3 turned his first delivery from Morkel to wide long on and hesitated in the midst of a quick single, before being punished when Lungi Ngidi picked the ball up on one knee and threw down the single stump that he could see. On a pitch offering next to nothing to the bowlers, India were 28 for 2.
Unsurprisingly, it was their captain who got them back into the game. He hit his first two deliveries to the fence – one with a magnificent forward push through cover, the other with a turn past mid on – and raced to 17 from 12 deliveries. He settled down thereafter in a comfortable stand with Murali Vijay that saw India safely to Tea on 80 for 2, with the pair’s constant communication about the danger of the inswinger regularly picked up on the stump microphone.
But at the start of the third session, Vijay developed an affinity for wafting at Maharaj’s wider deliveries, and it was no huge shock when he eventually edged one through to Quinton de Kock to depart for 46. Rabada returned in the very next over, and although he was unable to best Kohli in an engaging duel, the fifth over of his spell brought the dismissal of Rohit Sharma as he was trapped lbw.
After another over, Rabada finally made way for Ngidi to bowl his second spell, and one he is likely to remember for some time. It began with a strong shout for lbw against Kohli that was only denied – by the umpire and then the DRS – by a thin edge, and went on to yield a maiden Test wicket when Parthiv pushed at a delivery on fifth stump and edged through to the ‘keeper for 19.
At 164 for 5, India still trailed by 169 and were running out of batsmen, but Kohli and Pandya saw out eight overs to the close and added 19. With another 19 overs to come from the old ball, they should have some time to narrow the deficit on the third morning. With increasing signs of variable bounce, the importance of India gaining a first-innings lead is clear.
Brief Scores: South Africa 335 (Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82; Ravichandran Ashwin 4-113) lead India 183/5 at Stumps (Virat Kohli 85*; Lungi Ngidi 1-26) by 152 runs.