JOHANNESBURG – India captain Virat Kohli is playing a “totally different game” according to his teammate Ishant Sharma.
Kohli scored an unbeaten 85 on day two at Centurion against South Africa to take India to 183/5, still 152 runs behind the hosts' first-innings total of 335.
The right-handed batsman played well, but only received support from Murali Vijay (46) as South Africa's bowling attack chipped away to give them the edge at stumps. Kohli struck eight fours in his 130-ball stint, scoring all around the wicket off the the South African attack. India will resume on day three with Kohli and all-rounder Hardik Pandya (11 not out) at the crease, needing to extend their partnership and get as close to South Africa's total as possible.
“I think it [their partnership] is pretty important,” Sharma said. “Because the way Virat is playing it is a totally different game and if Hardik gets going he can take the game away from the opposition. I think he backs his strength totally and I am hopeful he will take the game away from South Africa.”
South Africa started the day up against it, but captain Faf du Plessis (63) batted well with the tail to take advantage of some sloppy Indian fielding to push the score beyond 300. Kohli and Pandya both dropped chances before two wickets for Sharma and one each for Ravichandran Ashwin and Mohammed Shami wrapped up the innings.
Despite India's profligacy in the field and the failure – barring Kohli and Vijay – to bat in partnerships, Sharma believes the game is too close to call at this stage.
“It was a pretty even day,” he said. “I think we bowled them out pretty easily, for 335 runs, and on this kind of wicket I think that was a good effort by the bowlers. Then to finish on 183/5 I think it was a pretty even day for both the teams. As of now we cannot say who is ahead because you can see that the balance is there. If Kohli and Pandya have a good partnership then tomorrow’s morning session is very important for us. It is vital how we play tomorrow.”
The wicket at SuperSport Park caused some raised eyebrows on day one and it is not the kind that South Africa had hoped for, or that India had expected. Normally South Africa thrive on fast, bouncy wickets, but both sides have been forced to adapt.
“First day the wicket was quite slow – slow as in it was two-paced,” Sharma added. “On such wickets you have to be very disciplined so we did that. We were trying not to let the game open up, because otherwise things will go out of your control. After tea the run out from Hardik was a game-changer for us.”
India may need a repeat of Pandya's heroics in the first Test at Newlands, where the all-rounder batted superbly with the Indian tail, smashing 93 from 95 balls to bring his side back into the game. With just Ashwin and a long tail of Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Sharma to come, a lot rests on the shoulders of the Indian captain and his batting partner.
African News Agency (ANA)