India nose ahead with late wickets on Day 1
INDIA TOUR OF SOUTH AFRICA, 2018India nose ahead with late wickets on Day 1Tristan Holme in Centurion â¢ Ravichandran Ashwin bowled 31 overs tirelessly on Day 1 to finish with three wickets. Â© BCCI
A fluctuating day closed with South Africa's fans singing the national anthem with gusto, but the reality was that it did not entirely belong to them. The home side owned the first two sessions of the second Test before somehow losing their nerve in the third, allowing India to feel that they had earned at least a share of the honours. Their bowlers may have picked up just four wickets, but two run-outs saw South Africa reach the close on 269 for 6 on Saturday (January 13) at the SuperSport Park in Centurion.
They will wonder what could have been given that Aiden Markram fell for 94, Hashim Amla for 82 and all of the top five reached at least 20. They might also wonder what part of their request the Centurion groundsman misunderstood, given that the most successful Indian bowler was Ravichandran Ashwin, who bowled 31 overs for figures of 3 for 90. This was not what the Proteas had in mind.
Nevertheless they can draw confidence from the fact that they will not have to bat last on a surface that is already showing signs of deterioration as the Highveld heat takes its toll. Once again Faf du Plessis won the toss, and this time the decision to bat first was an easy one. Less straightforward was selecting who should replace Dale Steyn, but in the end South Afr ica went for the positive option and handed a debut to Lungi Ngidi, whom du Plessis and Ottis Gibson had seen little of prior to Wednesday's practice session.
India, meanwhile, continued to spring surprises, with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Shikhar Dhawan left out to be replaced by Ishant Sharma and KL Rahul. With Wriddhiman Saha struggling with a hamstring problem, there was a third change as Parthiv Patel came in. The tweaks added a little chaotic mindset to the proceedings, and two-thirds of the way through the day, it was tempting to wonder whether off-field decisions were undermining India as much as some of the on-field action.
Either way, India were guilty of wasting the early exchanges, given that the first session is the only one in the match that will offer lateral movement. While Ishant managed to beat both of the Proteas openers on a few occasions, Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya were accurate without being threatening and Mohammed Shami was withdrawn aft er four expensive overs. India's decision to leave out Bhuvneshwar, their best bowler in Cape Town, looked all the more confusing.
Markram and Dean Elgar were content to start relatively slowly, despite the jibes from the Indian fielders about their 'lack of momentum'. For the most part they looked at home in front of a sold-out crowd - not surprising given that they both ply their trade for the Titans - despite the unfamiliar colour of the pitch.
Put plainly, South Africa's request for a green, lively wicket was not produced to order. Instead the surface was brown and on the slower side - the usual Centurion carry was not in evidence, and by the end of the day some deliveries were shooting through at shin height. While India were disadvantaged by losing the toss, Ashwin was introduced in the 20th over and soon looked the likeliest man to make a breakthrough, even in the absence of prodigious turn.
South Africa reached Lunch on 78 without loss, led by Markram's 81-ball fifty, but after the interval Elgar (31) was unsettled by Ashwin. His answer was to shuffle down the wicket, but when he failed to reach the pitch of the ball he could only bunt it to Murali Vijay at silly mid-off. The next two hours were almost all South Africa. India attempted the short-ball approach to Markram, but the opener took on everything that was thrown at him and enjoyed a productive period, becoming the third quickest player to 500 Test runs.
At the other end, Amla required some fortune. First, on 14, he whipped Ashwin to the left of Pandya at short midwicket and the fielder got a hand to it but could not hold the catch. Then, on 30, he tickled an Ishant delivery down the legside but Parthiv's sluggish movement meant he got two hands to the ball, but not two good hands.
By the time of the second chance, Markram had been adjudged caught behind off Ashwin for 94 - the second time he has fallen in the nineties in his seven Test innings. Had Parthiv held Amla, South Africa would have been 164 for 3. Instead Amla and AB de Villiers added another fifty stand, during which South Africa reached Tea on 182 for 2.
From there on they allowed things to slip.
De Villiers dragged a wide delivery from Ishant onto his stumps to depart for 20, and after Amla and Faf du Plessis retained control with a 47-run partnership, the slide happened quickly. It was started by a superb piece of fielding from Pandya, who responded to Amla's quick single in his follow-through by getting to the ball sharply, swiveling in his throw to knock down the stumps at the non-striker's end. Amla had to go for 82, and then Quinton de Kock was out first delivery to Ashwin, edging him to slip to continue his wretched run against pesky offspinners.
There was more drama to follow, as a nervy Vernon Philander fended away a bouncer and ran to the other end without looking at his partner. Du Plessis remained rooted to the spot whilst motioning for no run, before looking at his partner as if to ask why Philander had wound up sharing his end of the pitch.
With seven overs remaining and a second new ball to be taken, India had the opportunity to make further inroads against a batting lineup that is a little weaker than it was at Newlands due to the preference of Ngidi over Chris Morris. But Keshav Maharaj held firm, and du Plessis showed responsibility to guide South Africa through to the close without further damage.
Brief Scores: South Africa 269/6 at Stumps (Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82; Ravichandran Ashwin 3-90) vs India.Â© Cricbuzz TAGS