Centurion: It was billed to be a “smell the leather” wicket at the SuperSport Park as India and South Africa came out on the opening day of the second Test in the three-game series on Saturday.
But the first two sessions was all about chase the leather for the Indian fielders as the South Africa batsmen made hay. Though things did turn back for the visitors by the evening as a couple of run outs in the third session and good consistent bowling from R Ashwin saw the Indians claw back into the game.
Almost all the South Africa batsmen got starts, with only Dean Elgar (31) and AB de Villiers (20) failing to convert them into a big ones and Quinton de Kock getting out for a duck. At stumps, Faf du Plessis (24) and Keshav Maharaj (10) were at the crease with the score reading 268 for the loss of 6 wickets. It was a good toss to win for South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis and his batsmen made the most of the opportunity to make first use of the conditions.
Ashwin was the only Indian bowlers who looked threatening as he finished with three wickets on the first day wicket at Centurion. More than the wickets, he was the only bowler who kept applying pressure on the Proteas batsmen with his tight line and length. Had it not been for the couple of run outs in the third session – Amla and Vernon Philander – the hosts would have taken the bragging honours at the end of the opening day.
An ineffective bowling attack and a batting wicket is all former skipper Hashim Amla needed to roar back into form with a classy 82. He was in punishing mood whenever the Indian bowlers erred in line and was happy to pick the singles when they bowled in the right areas. It was a clear case of applying himself and making hay as the sun shone.
Interestingly, having said that he was excited by the lively look of the wicket, Virat Kohli did raise his eyebrows when he saw that most of the grass had been shaved off. In fact, it almost seemed like his plan to play three pacers and a spinner backfired as there was hardly anything in the wicket for the Indian bowlers at least. It will now be exciting to see if the South African pace battery manages to make inroads into the Indian batting line-up. If not, this is set to be a run feast at the Centurion.
But credit must also be given to opener Aiden Markram (94) and former skipper Hashim Amla for playing quality knocks. Even if it is a flattish deck, one has to apply himself and Markram looked at home from the word go. It only helped that this is his home ground. Knowing the conditions like the back of his hands ensured that Markram was happy to play out the first hour without trying too many aggressive shots. But once that was done with, he was at his stroke-playing best.
He had the perfect foil in Elgar as the southpaw kept at it and blocked one end up with his defence. He only waited to pick the singles and rotate the strike. It was only when there was a boundary ball in offer that Elgar looked to take full advantage. The hosts went into lunch at 78/0 and the first session belonged to the hosts.
But the Indians struck soon after the lunch break as R Ashwin sent back Elgar, caught by Murali Vijay at silly point. It was clearly a lucky wicket for the visitors as Elgar jumped down the track and hit the ball straight at Vijay who somehow managed to hold onto that one after it hit his body.
With Elgar back and an out of form Amla coming into bat, the Indians looked to attack. But the move did not pay much dividend as even though there was turn on offer, it wasn’t anything drastic to bother a batsman of Amla’s class. And Markram was already seeing the ball like a football so there was no need for him to panic.
While Amla was happy to pick the singles, Markram was more than keen to deal in boundaries as the home crowd kept cheering the batsmen on. It was finally a good ball from Ashwin that once again broke the back of the second-wicket partnership. Ashwin got one to hold its line just enough after pitching to take the edge of Markram’s bat. Even though the opener reviewed the decision as he felt his bat had hit the pad, the third umpire decided otherwise.
With South Africa two down, in walked the crowd favourite de Villiers and along with Amla, the two took the hosts to tea at 182/2. It was a slightly slow innings from the otherwise aggressive de Villiers, but with four days of cricket still left after this, it wasn’t a cause for concern.
Post the tea break, the Indians struck again and this time it was Ishant who struck. Bowling the fourth stump line, he got ABD to go for the cut and the ball was too close to the body, thereby ensuring that the inside edge got the ball to drag onto the stumps. The Indians were ecstatic, but skipper Faf and Amla stitched together another quality partnership before a run out saw Amla walk back to the dressing room.
Responding slowly to a quick call from Faf, Amla was caught short as a direct hit from Pandya saw him just short of his crease. Quinton too didn’t bother the scorers as he was out cutting Ashwin straight to Kohli at first slip.
Philander was also run out as he was ball watching and running down the track even as Faf kept shouting no from the other end. In the end he had to run back straight to the dressing room without scoring.
The wickets at the end of the day’s play definitely brings hope back for India, but the bowlers need to get their act right early if they wish to get back into the game on Day 2. You just cannot bowl all over the place and hope to pick wickets against the best in the business. And run outs don’t happen every over at the international level.