If ever India dominated a whole day of a Test match on foreign soil, it was on Day Three of the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg. The bowlers wrapped up the South African innings quickly on Friday and then the batsmen took the game away from the home side. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli were the undoubted stars for India on a good day for them. Shrikant Shankar has more…
How often do we see the world’s No 1 Test side being outplayed in their own backyard in a day’s play? Not very often. India’s young brigade did exactly that on Day Three of the first Test against South Africa in Johannesburg. South Africa began the day with the score reading 213 for six in response to India’s 280 all out. Vernon Philander immediately got to his half-century and the home side would have been looking at overturning the deficit.
But Ishant Sharma and Zaheer Khan did not let that to happen and cleaned up the South African lower-order and tail quite quickly. South Africa were bowled out for 244. Both Ishant and Zaheer finished with four wickets each. To get a 36-run lead after the first innings, India had done extremely well. The job then shifted to the batsmen in the second innings to put up a good total. South Africa’s famed pace bowling attack would have been relishing the opportunity to take some quick wickets and induce panic amongst the Indian batsmen.
They began very well and India’s initial runs were limited to only singles and the occasional double. The boundaries were kept at bay for large parts. But there was no pressure on India to score quickly with more than two-and-a-half days still left to play in the Test. However, Philander struck to dismiss Shikhar Dhawan for 15 before lunch. The wicket was his 100th in Test cricket. It was a historic one as well, as he became the fastest South African bowler to reach the milestone. He was also the eighth fastest in Test history.
Jacques Kallis played his part by taking a good diving catch at second slip after Dhawan had edged a length delivery. In doing so, Kallis took his 199th catch in Test cricket. But soon, South Africa’s day was to get grimmer. Morne Morkel’s foot got stuck in the turf near the boundary while fielding and he tore a ligament in his ankle. He had to come off the field and played no part in the day’s proceedings. He had bowled only two overs by then. By the end of the day, it was clear that the tall right-arm fast bowler would play no more part in the ongoing Test. Whether he bats in South Africa’s second innings is yet to be seen.
Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara were going strong and added 70 runs for the second wicket. Just as Vijay seemed to settle in properly, he feathered a leg-side delivery from Kallis to AB de Villiers behind the wickets. Then came in Virat Kohli and just one over before tea, it was clear who was bossing the match. Graeme Smith handed the ball to AB de Villiers of all people to try and get a much-needed breakthrough. De Villiers bowled an over of his right-arm mediums and gave away five runs. Hashim Amla took over the gloves and kept behind the wickets. India entered tea with a lead of 145. This showed that Smith did not trust leg-spinner — Imran Tahir.
To bowl a wicketkeeper in place of a regular spinner to take a wicket, it showed that Smith had lost the plot a bit for sure. After tea, the duo took full charge and scored freely. The fact that Morkel could not bowl did not help South Africa at all and the Indian batsmen made all the bowlers toil very hard. Kohli looked in sublime touch and struck an array of shots. Both Pujara and Kohli left the ball very well and forced the South African bowlers to bowl more closer to the stumps. When they did that, the duo scored runs.
Every time Tahir was brought into the attack, both Pujara and Kohli targeted the leg-spinner and did not let him settle into a rhythm. This forced Smith to overuse Dale Steyn, Philander and even Kallis. Things got that difficult for Tahir that Smith made JP Duminy bowl 11 overs by the end of the day’s play. Kohli got to his half-century and looked even more comfortable as his innings went along. But that is when Pujara really showed his abilities with the bat. He had already reached his half-century, but still he seemed like constructing a patient innings.
Pujara started playing all the strokes in his armoury and scored quickly. Whether he played on the front-foot or the back-foot, Pujara played the ball late and made batting look quite easy. The pitch too looked to flatten out a little bit and that helped the batsmen to score more freely. As Pujara came closer to his century, it looked like it did not matter to him who he was facing. He struck boundaries against all the bowlers he faced and ran well between the wickets.
He soon scored his ton with a cover drive that went for four. This was his sixth Test century in only his 16th Test. Such was the magnificence of Pujara’s batting that he scored 96 runs in the final session on Day Three. Kohli then picked up his scoring rate and finished the day on 77 off 132 balls with eight fours. Pujara was batting on 135 off 221 balls with 18 fours. Their partnership is now worth 191 runs for the third wicket. The run-rate of the stand alone is 4.32. At the close of stumps, India were at 284 for two. They led South Africa by 320 runs.
Clearly the day belonged to India. The South African players’ shoulders had dropped quite a bit by the end of the day and that showed they were outplayed by MS Dhoni’s men. India still face a big task on Day Four, as the world’s No 1 Test side will not let them have it their way so easily. But for now, India are the team in dominance of the first Test and they have Pujara and Kohli to thank for that.
South Africa vs India — Live on Ten Cricket
(Shrikant Shankar is a writer/reporter at CricketCountry.com. Previously he has done audio commentary for various matches involving India, Indian Premier League and Champions League Twenty20 for ESPNSTAR.com. You can follow him on Twitter @Shrikant_23)
Also on cricketcountry.com