Amid all the talk of the VCA Stadium sporting a pitch not worthy of playing a Test match on, India and South Africa dished out similar batting performances. After dismissing South Africa for 79 inside the first session, India were going strong at 97/2, before a late five-wicket-haul from Imran Tahir dismissed them for 173, and in turn setting South Africa a huge target of 310 to win.
In reply, South Africa are once again two wickets down, like they were a day before. Coincidentally, even the unbeaten batsmen are the same as Wednesday in Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar. A total of 20 wickets have fallen on day two and it was one of the rare occasions where a team has batted twice in the same day.
Stiian van Zyl played a loose shot to Ashwin, and South Africa’s decision of sending in Tahir as nightwatchman backfired for the second time when Amit Mishra removed him first ball. Amla’s team is 32/2 at stumps, and need another 278 runs in order to level the series and avert their first away series loss in nine years. Frankly, on a surface that is extracting some serious turn and bounce, their chances of chasing anything in excess of 200, let alone over 300 is next to nil.
India’s batsmen applied themselves well on a dust bowl-turned-minefield of a pitch. Sure, there was enough purchase for the spinners, something that Simon Harmer and Co. would have fancied, but no early signs of Tahir gave India some respite.
Morne Morkel gave South Africa their first breakthrough of the innings. Murali Vijay edged him to Amla at first slip and India were one down for 8. Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan, alert to the situation, took time and adopted a cautious approach. Scoring freely took some time, but once it did, South Africa were pushed to play catch up with each run scored.
Pujara declared his intentions with consecutive fours off Kagiso Rabada, who often drifted onto the batsman’s pads. Dhawan, in search of runs, was uncomfortable at the start, but he grew in confidence of his partner at the other end – he dispatched JP Duminy for three boundaries in an over. Both rotated the strike well, in addition to the occasional boundary that came along. But their promising stand of 48 runs was cut short by a straighter one from Duminy that clipped Pujara’s offstump right after he had cracked him for two boundaries.
What was baffling to see was the time Amla took to bring Tahir to bowl – the legspinner bowled his first over in the 25th over when India had already taken a lead of over 230 runs. Why was it baffling? Clearly because of what happened once he arrived on scene. Three wickets and four overs and all of a sudden, South Africa were in with a chance.
Dhawan was the first to go, opting to reverse sweep Tahir. Virat Kohli was next, lifting a catch to Faf du Plessis at long-on. Ajinkya Rahane, shortly after surviving a close caught-behind shout, landed an edge to point. He continued to mesmerise after tea, and added a fourth when Wriddhiman Saha, looking to play a fine paddle sweep, had the ball ricocheted off first his glove, then Dane Vilas’ boot into the hands of Amla.
Had it not been for Rohit Sharma’s useful 23, who put on a crucial 20-plus stands with Ashwin and Mishra, India would have fallem short by 50-odd runs. Morkel had Rohit caught at long-on, which was followed by Tahir cleaning up Ishant Sharma for his second five-for in the series.
South Africa’s spin demons came back to haunt them as Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja shared nine wickets to restrict them to a lowly total. The lost eight wickets for 68 runs, and in the process, Ashwin registered his 14th five-wicket haul. Their top five combined for 12 runs – the lowest that South Africa have lost half their side for.
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