On the fifth delivery of the ninth over of the Indian innings. Cheteshwar Pujara, facing Morne Morkel, played a fullish delivery comfortably off his pads and ran. The right-hander would have thought that he played it wide enough from Lungi Ngidi but that wasn’t the case to be. The lanky seamer collected the ball in time and disturbed the woodwork to find Pujara well short of his crease. In a matter of two deliveries, India lost both KL Rahul and Pujara and were in a spot of bother at 28/2. In walked Virat Kohli and restored calm with opener Murali Vijay at the other end.
The pair operated fought and bailed the side out of trouble. From 28/2, they took the total over the 100-run mark and were looking set to convert the solid start into big individual scores. Kohli in particular was very busy right from the time he took guard for the first time and ensured the team didn’t feel the heat of the scoreboard. Just when the situation was looking bright for the visitors, Vijay started to cut and miss way too often. He kept doing it before Keshav Maharaj finally found his outside edge and ended the right-hander’s 126-ball knock. Vijay walked back after scoring 46 and India were again forced into a situation of playing catch-up.
With the scoreboard reading 107/3, South Africa again sniffed an opportunity to run through the opposition’s middle-order and they succeeded. In came Rohit and had another poor outing as he was trapped in front for 10 by Kagiso Rabada. There was a brief chat between Rohit and Kohli before the former went for the review but it turned out to be an unsuccessful one. Kohli crossed the fifty-run mark but it would have been a frustrating sight for him as wickets tumbled at the other end.
After Rohit, Parthiv Patel walked in, ahead of Hardik Pandya and R Ashwin, got off to a start, impressed with his urgency and then left. Lungi Ngidi had him out caught-behind for his first Test scalp and India were reduced to 164/5. If India reflect on how they operated, they’ll be frustrated with the manner in which the batsmen got out. Unlike Newlands, the ball wasn’t doing much and it was just about spending time in the middle and then capitalising on the loose deliveries. Except Kohli, and Vijay to an extent, executed this well and now holds key to India’s chances in this Test. For good early half of his innings, Kohli operated at a very brisk rate and it was only after wickets tumbled that he cautiously switched gears and ensured to hold on to his wicket till the end of day’s play.
For South Africa, Ngidi, 21, impressed on debut with his speeds and the bounce he extracted from the surface. It was a day where the bowlers had to be patient before getting the reward and both teams were happy to stick to their plan. Earlier in the day, India bowled out South Africa for 335. R Ashwin and Ishant Sharma were the star performers with four and three wickets each. It wasn’t a memorable outing for Hardik Pandya and Jasprit Bumrah as the two failed to make additions to the wickets tally.
It’s still anybody’s game and India would hope that the lower-order, after another top-order failure, chips in with the crucial runs and helps the side overhaul the opposition’s total.