India, in their search of a first series win in South Africa, found an unlikely hero in Shardul Thakur. The under-rated pacer’s career-best 7-61 should have been enough, but this South African team is showing that it won’t go down without a fight.
Over good periods of the second day’s play, the Proteas looked to take control, only to see Shardul pegging them back with his intelligent medium-pace bowling. And now it’s over to India’s old warhorses Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
After conceding a lead of 27, India lost their openers KL Rahul (8) and Mayank Agarwal (23) early. Things could have spiralled out of control in the last hour of the day with the South African pace quartet breathing down the throats of the two senior Indian players battling to save their international careers.
There were plays and misses, the occasional top-edge, but Rahane and Pujara are still there. The intent seems to be there and Pujara is looking to score at a faster clip, putting the pressure right back on South Africa. By stumps, they had put up 41 runs for the third wicket and India are 58 to the good.
While the last hour was a battle of attrition of the two old pros, the first six hours was about punching and counter-punching of the South Africa batsmen and the Indian pacers — led by the unlikely hero Shardul.
Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen showed immense determination in the first hour to survive the pace of Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah.
“Talk is cheap unless it’s translated into action,” skipper Elgar had said before the game.
He tried to walk the talk, leaving a lot outside the off-stump and tiring the two premier pacemen. Petersen, on the other end, looked classy and balanced, playing a few beautiful shots and looking assured around the offstump.
Till Shardul came into the picture. While the Mumbai paceman extracted the nick out of Elgar, Petersen (62) felt he had the situation under control and tried an expansive drive which resulted in an outside edge. Three quick wickets just before lunch should have put India in total control, but Temba Bavuma and new keeper-batsman Kyle Verrynne were not ready to surrender.
Post lunch, there was a counter-attack by the duo and suddenly the hosts were within 50 runs of the Indian total. Bavuma, of late, has been South Africa’s man for the crisis, and he showed he has the game to take the Proteas forward in these times of transition.
His half-century was a brilliant effort under pressure and India could well have been looking at bigger deficit had Shardul not delivered again. He got one to jag back and had Verryne plumb in front while Bavuma would like to believe that he should have been a little more cautious and not thrown his wicket away.
The South African tail, though, wagged a bit and 50 runs by the last four batters was a little more than what India would have bargained for. But the pitch has started to show variable bounce and India probably have enough depth to take a lead of 200. And then, we may well be in for a brilliant
South African sunrise!