OCTOBER 3, 2019
Brief Scorecard: At Stumps – South Africa 39 for 3 (Elgar 27, Ashwin 2-9) trail India 502 for 7 dec. (Agarwal, 215, Rohit 176, Maharaj 3-189) by 463 runs
VISAKHAPATNAM – India assumed total control of the Vizag Test on day two with their openers pressing home the advantage from day one and their spinners making clear the difference in class between both teams. For 136 long overs, South Africa seemed to be the mercy of the batsmen’s adventure for wickets, but the moment R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja began to operate, the drift, the dip and then the turn made the pitch look much more dangerous than it had been.
Mayank Agarwal turned his maiden Test century into a double, Rohit Sharma fell just short of one himself; together they added 317, the third-highest opening stand for India. The wearing pitch made it difficult for the remaining batsmen to press the scoring rate, but India had enough on the board to ask South Africa to bat 20 overs on the second evening. Bowling for the first time in international cricket this year, Ashwin took 13 balls to bowl Aiden Markram through the gate. South Africa were three down by stumps.
Rohit and Agarwal resumed with promise of more punishment, and South Africa sabotaged themselves by dropping Rohit in the fifth over the day before missing a run-out opportunity too. Rohit seemed mindful of the time lost to rain on the first day and kept attacking the bowling. It also allowed Agarwal to play the second fiddle and ease his way to his maiden Test hundred. Before Rohit was stumped when playing a forward-defensive, he had added 61 in 71 balls on the second morning.
Agarwal’s was a properly paced Test innings and just reward for his toil in domestic cricket that made it impossible for the selectors to look away. He was never too slow, and kept accelerating gradually even as wickets fell at the other end. Cheteshwar Pujara got a beauty from Vernon Philander first ball after lunch, Virat Kohli got one that stopped in the pitch, and Ajinkya Rahane added another low score at home by hitting straight to cover. But at the other end, Agarwal never let things stall. His first hundred took 202 balls, the next 115 came in 159 balls. He matched Rohit six for six: the 12 hit between them were the highest for an India opening pair.
With 38 career sixes already, Rohit was level with Navjot Sidhu at No. 9 among Indian six-hitters. The two tied with coach Ravi Shastri for the fifth-highest number of sixes a Test innings for India. Trying to hit a seventh, Agarwal deposited a Dean Elgar full toss to deep midwicket. Even before the bonus wicket, Elgar was the highest wicket-ticker in India among the current South Africa squad. No bowler looked good enough to challenge, lacking both consistency and penetration.
India promoted Jadeja looking for quick runs but it was apparent the pitch had started to play tricks and that it was not going to be easy to score at will. Not only had Rohit and Agarwal made the most of the best batting conditions, they had done so quickly enough to give India enough time to declare.
Immediately batting became a treacherous occupation. Brought on in the fourth over, Ashwin drew movement in the air, which accentuated the effect of turn off the pitch. It also threatened both edges. At the other end, Jadeja troubled the batsmen with his pace and quick turn, giving them little time to adjust. The revs put on the ball were unmistakably higher than South Africa’s spinners did, and the results were there.
Markram was made to play outside the line he had committed to as Ashwin’s drift took the ball away from him, creating a gap between the bat and pad. Then the ball turned through that gap to knock back the off stump. He went around the wicket to undo Thenius de Bruyn, who seemed to be mindful of the drift and the angle when he played outside the line of the offbreak. The turn took the inside edge for a superb catch by Wriddhiman Saha, who, in his first Test in 22 months showed his mastery behind the stumps.
This was Ashwin’s 71st wicket with the first new ball in Test cricket. Since his debut, only Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Philander and Trent Boult have taken more. Ashwin also has a better average than Anderson and Broad.
Jadeja wasn’t one to be left behind, getting rid of the nightwatchman Dane Piedt with a quick delivery that didn’t turn and snuck past the inside edge. Elgar, not surprisingly, was looking at the prospect of a long and possibly lonesome vigil, having survived 83 balls without looking in too much trouble.