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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

IND vs SA second Test: South Africa hold initial bragging rights

Proteas pacers dismiss Kohli-less India for modest total to take first-day honours in second Test.

Written by Abhishek Purohit |
Updated: January 4, 2022 12:10:51 pm
India's batsman Mohammed Shami, middle, successfully appeals for the dismissal of South Africa's Aiden Markram, during the first day of the 2nd Test Cricket match between South Africa and India at the Wanderers stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The first nine overs of the Wanderers Test suggested a near-repeat of the first hour of the Centurion Test. South Africa had squandered the new ball on Boxing Day, bowling too wide and serving up too many boundary balls to build any sort of pressure with the new Kookaburra. India’s openers KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal had gone on to add 117, and the match was to slip away from South Africa right there.

But in sharp contrast, at the end of the day in Johannesburg, hosts were the happier lot after dismissing India for 202 and reaching 35/1. Had it not been for a resolute half-century by KL Rahul, leading India in the absence of Virat Kohli who is nursing an upper back spasm and a valuable cameo from Ravichandran Ashwin, the tourists would have struggled to cross 150.

With the pitch offering some spice for pacers, it seems to be game on going into the second day.

On the first day of the New Year’s Test, Duanne Olivier shared the new ball with Kagiso Rabada in his highly- anticipated return to Test cricket after a three-year Kolpak career in England. His opening spell lasted four overs.

As he moved it in and out gently in the mid-120s, one started to wonder whether he was still in county cricket mode. After all the fuss over Olivier missing Centurion and all the build-up ahead of the Wanderers game, had South Africa sacrificed an all-rounder for this? Wiaan Mulder had bowled a tad quicker at Centurion, and is supposed to offer a few runs with the bat too, unlike Olivier.

The 29-year-old Olivier had made Rahul hop to a lifter that had missed the outside edge and nicked his shoulder on its way to the ’keeper, but that had been about the only threat he’d posed, and it had come out of nowhere.

At the other end, Kagiso Rabada had been surprisingly shorn of speed and bite, and India had ticked along to 32 in nine overs.

Then came Lungi Ngidi, bang on target from ball one and allowing a single run in his first three overs. Angling the ball in around off-stump and making it straighten, Ngidi was posing a constant threat. But it was to be one of those days; he would end wicketless in 11 overs.

But Ngidi, and Marco Jansen after him, tightened things up considerably, and the latter broke through soon. The previous five overs had brought only four runs, and the first ball after the drinks break, Agarwal saw one pitched up and decided to drive to end the brief strangle. But the young left-armer Jansen can get it to rise even from a full length because of his immense height, and Agarwal nicked it behind.

Something snapped into place for the South African new-ball pair now, especially Olivier; the pace increased slightly, but crucially, he started getting it to take off tennis-ball like from a good length, something he has been known for and brought him a Test average below 20.

Veterans disappoint

Cheteshwar Pujara had already been made to fend a couple, out of the reach of backward short-leg. He wasn’t as lucky when Olivier made it climb again, and lobbed it to point off the splice. Pujara has often got into trouble overseas for his tendency to sort of lean half-forward and try to ride the extra bounce. He failed again trying that, for just 3.

Pujara had lasted 33 balls; the second under-pressure veteran, Ajinkya Rahane, was to go first ball. Olivier found bounce once more, but it would have been a straightforward leave had Rahane not gone fishing to edge it to the cordon.

The pitch seemed to be playing quicker now as it baked under the sun. Following a brief resistance in his first Test in a year, Hanuma Vihari got a snorter from Rabada for Rassie van der Dussen to take a flying catch at short leg.

All this while, Rahul had batted in a cocoon of his own. It’s like he has squeezed himself into this protective shell and will not be lured to step out of it no matter what is thrown at him. He holds the bat calmly behind the pad to let deliveries on fourth or fifth stump pass. The bat does not stray away from the body despite enticements galore, nor does the balance betray him.

Almost an identical ball from Jansen to the one that got Agarwal on the drive, Rahul played out without fuss a while later. He was able to do that because he had not committed and watched the ball closely until the very last instant.

Even as Agarwal took the lead at the start with a few fours, Rahul was on 1 off 28. He then got a full delivery on the pads from Olivier. One’d expect a subcontinent batter in particular to be delighted at the offering and whip it square or through midwicket for the release shot. But Rahul has disciplined himself to the extent that he accounted for the bit of late swing, and eased it with a dead straight bat through mid-on for four.

That discipline, however, was to desert him soon after he reached his half-century. With two men in the deep for the hook, Rahul still played the shot off Jansen and fell to an excellent sliding take by Rabada.

An enterprising 46 off 50 by Ashwin stretched the innings from 116/5 to 202, but it was way short of the average first-innings score of 317 at Wanderers. In only his second Test, 21-year-old Jansen finished with figures of 17-5-31-4.

Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen survived an 18-over barrage from stand-in vice-captain Jasprit Bumrah & Co even as Aiden Markram fell to Mohammed Shami for the third time in three innings. India will be worried that Mohammed Siraj walked off the field without completing his fourth over. Unlike Centurion, they do not have the cushion of runs to play with at Wanderers.

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