Centurion: When the going gets tough, the tough get going. But on Sunday, it was a challenge of a different kind for India skipper Virat Kohli. The wicket at the SuperSport Park for the second Test of the ongoing series between India and South Africa might not be anything like the ones Centurion has been known to produce over the years, but it still needed Kohli to show patience and grind it out against a disciplined South Africa bowling attack that kept coming at the Indian batsmen over after over on a hot and sunny day.
It might have been a new day, but the pattern of the game took very much the same turn as just like India did on the first day, South Africa clawed back into the game in the post-tea session on the second day. With Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay batting like they would in their own backyard – in the post lunch session – it looked like India were on course to surpass South Africa’s first innings total of 335 with ease.
But two quick wickets in the post tea session brought the hosts right back in the game. At stumps, India’s score read 183/5 with Kohli (85) and Hardik Pandya (12) at the crease. They still trail South Africa by 152 runs with five wickets in the bag. But most importantly, skipper Kohli is still at the crease and batting beautifully. The wicket might have been flat, but the knock from the skipper was well-timed as a first-innings lead is crucial on this wicket if the visitors hope to level the series here.
Just as Hashim Amla returned to form on Saturday afternoon, it was the turn of Kohli to hit form on Sunday afternoon after he failed to guide India home in their chase of 208 at the Newlands Stadium in Cape Town. It was a Kohli show from the moment he came in as he straight drove Morne Morkel past the mid-on fielder to make his intentions very clear. He drove, he cut, he flicked and he pulled with equal ease as the pace and bounce on the wicket suited his style of play to perfection.
The 79-run partnership between Kohli and Vijay finally ended with Keshav Maharaj sending Vijay (46) back to the hut in the third session. The dismissal also saw the South Africans slowly crawl their way back into the game. With opener KL Rahul (10) getting out, caught and bowled by Morkel and Cheteshwar Pujara (0) literally running himself out on the same score of 28, it was left to Vijay and Kohli to see India through to the tea break after they dismissed South Africa for 335 10 minutes before the lunch break.
But Kohli and Vijay did not just see the team through to the tea break, they played with ease and even as Kohli was the aggressor to start with, Vijay kept hitting those timely boundaries. In fact, coming back at 80/2 after the tea break, it almost looked like both the batsmen were keen to take the attack to the opposition bowlers. The flatness of the wicket surely helped their cause as pace is not an issue at this level.
There were some fiery deliveries from both Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi. In fact, there were also some heated exchange between Rabada and the Indian batsmen, but nothing could deter the focus these two showed in the middle. The partnership finally ended in the 37th over of the innings and even though it looked like the wicket was tailor-made for Rohit Sharma to repay the faith the team management has shown by picking him over Test deputy Ajinkya Rahane, the ODI vice-captain could manage only 10 before being caught plumb in front by Rabada.
Even though Rohit did review the decision, the third umpire decided in favour of the on-field umpire. After that, it was left on wicket-keeper Parthiv Patel to see the day off with skipper Kohli. But Parthiv too flattered to deceive as Lungi Ngidi picked his first Test wicket. Edging one that moved away after pitching, Parthiv had to walk back for 19 as Hardik Pandya came to the crease.
Pandya made his intentions very clear as he pulled Morkel to the mid-wicket boundary even as the pacer looked to rattle the all-rounder with a bouncer early in the innings. After that, it was all about playing for stumps as both Kohli and Pandya know that the two need to stitch a long partnership if India have to take a first innings lead from here.
Earlier, the Indian bowlers started poorly on the second morning and the first hour saw South Africa skipper Faf du Plessis and Keshav Maharaj continue from where they had left on Saturday and kept picking the runs. But Mohammed Shami finally broke through as he sent back Maharaj (18) with a jaffer that moved just enough after pitching to take the edge of the bat and land into Parthiv’s gloves. But Rabada wasn’t willing to give in without a fight and he put on 42 with the skipper for the 8th wicket before Ishant struck, sending Rabada back for 11. It was a good catch from Hardik Pandya as he ran in from the deep square-leg boundary.
With the score reading 324/8 and Faf still at the crease, it looked like he would take South Africa past the 350-run mark. But an effort from du Plessis to whip Ishant off the stumps saw his middle stump go for a walk in the park. With du Plessis gone for 63, R Ashwin then sent back Morkel for 6 as the South Africa innings ended on 335. While Ashwin finished with 4/113 from his 38.5 overs, Ishant had figures of 3/46 from his 22.