India have the upper hand over South Africa after Day Four of the first Test at Johannesburg. Although both teams had their moments, India’s domination on Day Three earlier has made them inch closer to a victory. The task is not easy, but India are only eight strikes away from going 1-0 up in the series. Shrikant Shankar believes that India have a chance to make a statement and should not let this opportunity go by.
If only Day Four was taken into consideration, it was South Africa who had the better of India in the first Test in Johannesburg. But the preceding three days have made sure that India actually are in control of the match. Such was India’s dominance on Day Three that South Africa’s fight-back on Day Four has still not allowed them to get to a comfortable position. However, they do have a chance to draw the match, if not win it.
South Africa were set a target of 458 runs to chase, once India were bowled out for 421 in their second innings. At stumps on Day Four, they still need 320 more runs to win. The position they are in isn’t as bad as one would expect it to be on a track with variable bounce. The only quandary is that South Africa have lost two wickets and important ones in Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla. They are probably the only side who can pull off something dramatic from such a position, but the odds are stacked up against them.
The nature of the wicket also ensures that they can’t just leave deliveries with ease. Amla got bowled while trying to duck and sway away to a bouncer from Mohammed Shami. But the ball bounced quite low and missed his helmet’s visor, as it struck the stumps. More uneven bounce can be expected on Day Five and not many are better batsmen than Amla in the South African line-up. Morne Morkel’s foot injury also means they maybe a man short in the batting department. He may bat, but South Africa cannot depend on him to stay at the wicket for long
Smith and Alviro Petersen actually started the second innings in a positive fashion. Petersen hogged the batting and the score kept ticking at a fairly quick pace. Smith then just started to find the boundaries regularly, when a brilliant piece of fielding from Ajinkya Rahane led to him being run out. Smith played a Ravichandran Ashwin delivery to mid-on and took off for a single. The ball bounced at the right height for Rahane, as he collected it smoothly and released a quick throw. It was a direct hit and Smith was found short by a few centimetres.
South Africa actually looked quite comfortable at that time, but Smith’s wicket quickly followed by Amla’s has definitely put India in a fine position. The day began with India already having a sizeable 320-run lead. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli batted brilliantly on Day Three and would have been hoping to pile on more pressure on the South African bowlers on Day Four. But some tight bowling did not let them score freely. Pujara was dismissed for a magnificent 153 off 270 balls. Rohit Sharma then was bowled by Jacques Kallis as the ball kept really low after pitching on a back of a length.
Kohli then went for an expansive cut off JP Duminy and got a thin edge. AB de Villiers took the catch and Kohli was dismissed for 96 off 193 balls. Kohli fell four runs short of becoming only the fourth Indian batsman to score two centuries in the same Test. He had scored 119 in the first innings. MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan kept the weakened South African bowling attack at bay for a while. before India were bowled out for 421 runs on the board.
There was another interesting period of play right at the end of the day’s play. The light was not up to the mark at the New Wanderers Stadium and so as to make sure time was not lost, Dhoni made Murali Vijay bowl his right-arm off-spin for one over. As Ashwin operated from one end, Dhoni himself came onto bowl for two overs. Kohli kept wickets, as the Indian captain bowled his away swingers to Petersen and Faf du Plessis. As he finished his over, Dhoni soon took over wicketkeeping duties for Ashwin, but without pads.
Smith had made wicketkeeper De Villiers bowl one before tea on Day Three and now Dhoni too bowled a couple of overs before stumps on Day Four. This was the first time in history, opposition wicketkeepers have bowled in the same Test match. But apart from history, there was a stark contrast in mindset of the two sides when the team’s respective wicketkeepers bowled. When de Villiers bowled, many believed Smith had lost the plot a bit, but when Dhoni bowled, it was to bowl more overs to get another wicket.
This shows who actually has the upper hand in the Test match. The Proteas clearly had the better of the two sides on Day Four. But in the overall context of things, it is India who are on top. The world’s No 2 Test side has a glorious opportunity to send out a clear message to the cricketing world. They have to seize this moment and make sure they win the first Test against the No 1 side in their own backyard. There were doubts over this young Indian team’s chances playing in an away Test series. Now, they can take the first step in allaying those doubts by beating South Africa .
(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)
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