India celebrate after Mohammed Shami took the wicket of South Africa’s AB De Villiers on Tuesday. Photo: REUTERS/James Oatway
India celebrate after Mohammed Shami took the wicket of South Africa’s AB De Villiers on Tuesday. Photo: REUTERS/James Oatway
Dean Elgar celebrates scoring fifty runs on Tuesday. Photo: REUTERS/James Oatway
Dean Elgar celebrates scoring fifty runs on Tuesday. Photo: REUTERS/James Oatway

JOHANNESBURG - In one, immaculate Hindi sentence, Mohammed Shami addressed the matter of what the Indian dressing-room thought of the Centurion wicket.

“I don’t know what they were thinking, preparing this wicket for us,” he guffawed!

Every Indian in the room followed suit, delighting in the near clanger that had seen their hosts almost gift-wrap the second Test for them. In the end, South Africa will win comfortably, and the series will be sealed at some point on day five.

But, the Centurion pitch made them take the scenic route to get to the promised land of a series win that they really, really wanted over India. Dean Elgar, who made a sanguine 61, admitted that the 2015 tour of India left scars on the South African contingent who were there, and they wanted to exact some revenge on home soil.

Well, when Centurion used to be what they could confidently "home soil".

Elgar’s summation of the conditions followed the same pattern of the three Proteas that came before him. There was puzzlement, there was disappointment and, understandably, irritation that their home advantage had been swept away by a playing surface that was more poppadum than Pretoria.

“We knew we had to knuckle down because of the nature of the wicket. As you get used to things, scoring gets a bit easier,” Elgar offered.

“But, on a wicket of that nature, you know that there's a ball out there with your name on it, so you have to be cautious.”

Elgar and company made the runs that made the things that Lungi Ngidi cooked up later in the day possible. Where day three had been an exhibition of fine batsmanship, survival became more paramount on the fourth dawn.

The pitch powdered up, and fast men became a deadlier proposition than even the twirling Ravichandran Ashwin. He went wicketless, while the likes of the mischievous Mr Shami and Lungi Ngidi aimed straight and trusted the variable bounce to add the credits.

Runs were a premium, which is why Elgar gruffed when it was pointed out that South Africa hadn’t yet converted a half-century into a full house. "Thanks,” he deadpanned.

“Those 40s, 80s and 94s all count too,” he said, referring to South Africa’s collective approach to scoring.

And, what is more, the dangerous Virat Kohli is not a problem that Elgar and company have to deal with on the final day.

“It's massive for us, and massive for India as well, because they know he's not going out to bat. I'm sitting here smiling, knowing that he's one player we don't have to worry about it.”

Shami had raised a massive giggle, but Elgar and his cronies will have the last laugh at Centurion. Before day’s end, Ngidi made Centurion all giddy when he added the prized scalp of Kohli to that of a wasteful K.L Rahul, to leave India tottering at 35 for three. That was the death knell, and he added a few body blows to Parthiv Patel before the day was over, rubbing salt into some widening Indian wounds.

South Africa will want to be swift on the fifth morning, and make sure India don’t have any sniff of a miracle at their new home from home.

IOL Sport

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