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India vs South Africa 1st Test: India sniff victory, need six wickets to win Centurion Test


DECEMBER 29, 2021

Brief Scorecard: South Africa 197 and 94 for 4 (Elgar 52*, Bumrah 2-22, Siraj 1-25) need a further 211 runs to beat India 327 and 174 (Pant 34, Rabada 4-42, Jansen 4-55)

Jassi, yeh dekh, yeh dekh yahan pe crack hai!” Virat Kohli was his usual animated self, gesticulating, leaping around, offering suggestions to his pace spearhead Jasprit Bumrah and generally betraying wild excitement at the prospect of having the weapons at his disposal to exploit the inconsistencies of the Centurion pitch.

Yet again, India’s commanding pace pack did not disappoint. Smelling blood, they closed in for the kill, but the heavy roller, cleverly opted for by South Africa, had momentarily tamed the demons in the surface.

The late afternoon sun and the softer ball blunted India’s charge and took the cracks out of play. There’s something to be said, after all, for local knowledge of conditions.

With the variable bounce somewhat subdued, South Africa’s captain Dean Elgar (batting 52; 122b; 7×4) played a valiant hand and Rassie van der Dussen hung in there by the skin of his teeth in the last session on Wednesday. They fought tooth and nail, thrusting and parrying, getting right behind the line of the ball to keep disaster at bay.

With the tension building, it was up to Bumrah to work his magic again and break the stubborn stand. Replacing Ashwin in the 37th over, he used the width of the crease and got one to cut back in miles from back of a length. Van der Dussen, mystified, could only shoulder arms.

That one wicket swung the momentum back India’s way and Bumrah, breathing fire, prised out nightwatchman Maharaj with a 143kph yorker off the last ball of the day. At stumps, South Africa were 94/4 chasing 305, meaning India are six wickets away from making history here. There is, however, threat of some rain on the last day. The SA batters, like the Indians earlier, were tenacious and game for a scrap on this surface but sooner or later, a delivery was likely to come which would scramble your brains.

There was no lack of trying from India’s faster men and their interrogation of the batters was relentless. Only Siraj was maybe guilty of scattering his lengths a bit, but that Bumrah ball wasn’t the only piece of magic from India’s pace pack.

Just before tea, Mohammed Shami’s immaculate control of line continued as he messed with Aiden Markram in his first over. Shami seamed one away but the outside edge didn’t carry. He squared Markram up next, the ball deflecting off the bat to gully. Third ball, that kiss of death on off-stump again, and Markram was caught in two minds whether to play or leave. Eventually he managed an inside edge which clattered on to the stumps.

It was another stellar exhibition of India’s faster bowlers exploiting friendly conditions away from home, from England to Australia to now South Africa. This is an inversion Test cricket has been quietly wishing for. Remember this is Fortress Centurion, where South Africa won 21 of 26 Tests coming into this game. This upending of the concept of home advantage is the single biggest booster shot Test cricket could have wanted, especially coming from India, a team for which the term ‘pace battery’ has been nonexistent for large parts of its cricketing history.

On this day, it was all about wearing the bowlers down, as India discovered when they batted a second time for 50 overs and three balls. By the 11th over of India’s innings, the fifth of the day, it was clear the variable bounce would be a problem. Rabada banged one in short. KL Rahul ducked in anticipation of the invariable bouncer. Instead of shooting up, the ball thudded into his chest.

With the arrival of Pujara, it became clear India were keen to avoid the pitfalls of their first-innings collapse and instead bat out time. Pujara was lucky to survive a dropped catch early, when a half-volley seemed to stop on him.

The short balls tested Rahul’s patience, after copping a blow from Ngidi and receiving treatment, he went hard at one outside off and paid the price. The pitch, too, may have played a part in messing up his anticipation of the bounce.

Kohli came in, steering and prodding to keep the scoreboard in play, until he fell first ball after lunch. On this pitch, even 30-run stands, like the one between Rahane and Pujara, were crucial and Rishabh Pant’s run-a-ball 34 was worth its weight in gold.

The SA bowlers were disciplined and the onus of taking the risk was all on the batters, but India looked like they would rather prefer forcing the issue with ball in hand as they folded for 174.

Courtesy/Source: TOI