The South African bowling attack offered no respite to the Indian batsmen on the second day of the first Test at Newlands in Cape Town on Saturday (January 6).
At the end of an absorbing first session, India were 76 for 4, with Cheteshwar Pujara batting on 26 and R Ashwin keeping him company on 12. Although India managed just 48 runs in the session, they didn’t let South Africa run away with the momentum.
Resuming on 28 for 3, Pujara and Rohit Sharma adopted the cautious approach.
The ideal scenario for India would have been to rotate the strike as much as possible and not let a bowler target a particular batsman. But the tight lines and lengths from the South African bowlers meant the first runs of the morning came in the fifth over of the day.
Dale Steyn, playing a Test after a gap 13 months, peppered Pujara with the short stuff, regularly clocking over 140 kph and putting any concerns about his shoulder to rest.
Vernon Philander, at the other end, kept beating the outside edge of Rohit’s bat with subtle movements off the seam, bowling five straight maidens.
The Indian duo saw off Steyn’s spell without any damage, but against a four-pronged pace attack, one can never breathe easy, especially when the replacement bowlers are Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada.
Morkel continued from where Steyn left, mixing length deliveries with bouncers, but Pujara was up to the task, swaying away, ducking under, or shouldering arms as per the requirement.
In the first hour, in which 13 overs were bowled, India managed only 17 runs at a rate of 1.31 runs per over, but, more importantly, they made sure the wicket count stayed at three.
South Africa had their first real chance of the morning when Rabada got Rohit to push at a wide delivery, but unfortunately for the hosts, the edge went between third slip and gully.
Occasionally, when trying to bowl fuller, Morkel erred in his line and Pujara took full advantage of the rare opportunities to score, hitting a couple of boundaries off his pads.
Rabada finally brought an end to Rohit’s resistance when the batsman failed to lay bat on an inswinger and was trapped in front. Rohit decided to review the decision only to find that the ball would have crashed into the middle stump.
Ashwin, who came to bat ahead of Hardik Pandya and Wriddhiman Saha, was welcomed with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries, but somehow managed to survive till lunch.
On Friday, South Africa won the toss and opted to bat as India decided to leave out Ajinkya Rahane.
The Indian bowling attack, led by Bhuvneshwar Kumar, made the most of the conditions, but fifties from AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis, and some useful contributions from the lower order helped the home side put a competitive total of 286.
The knockout punch was delivered by the South African pace bowlers, with Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, and Morne Morkel reducing India to 27 for 3 in the last hour.