South African batsman Keshav Maharaj celebrates his half-century during the third day of the 2nd Test Match between India and South Africa at MCA Stadium in Pune on Saturday. Photo: ANI Photo

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s no.10 batsman Keshav Maharaj top scored with 72 as the tourists were bowled out for 275 in the penultimate over of the third day in Pune on Saturday. 

In doing so, Maharaj, batting with a sore shoulder, showed up many of his top order colleagues, who’d collapsed in a heap against India’s seamers on the second evening and in the first session on day three. India have a lead of 326 runs, and their captain Virat Kohli has an interesting decision to make ahead of Sunday’s play.

Does he choose to bat a second time, take more time out of the match, rest his bowlers but allow the pitch, which is showing signs of disintegration to break up further, or does he enforce the follow-on?

That Kohli has to do some thinking is in large part down to Maharaj and Vernon Philander, whose ninth wicket partnership of 109, which saw them occupy the crease for most of the last session. 

The day had started with many expecting India to roll through South Africa. Having already picked up three wickets in a one hour burst on Friday evening, they added the wickets of nightwatchman, Anrich Nortje (3) and Theunis de Bruyn (30) within half an hour of the start of play on Saturday. 

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Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock, whose spots in the order have come in for plenty of debate with many believing they should go in higher up the order, then added 75 for the sixth wicket.

Given South Africa’s top order struggles, those questions about the composition of the batting order are understandable, but until crucial positions like the Director of Cricket and the Team Director are filled on a permanent basis, those questions are largely irrelevant. Only once those positions are permanently filled will long term decisions actually be taken and implemented.

De Kock was dismissed by a peach from Ravichandaran Ashwin, that spun passed the outside edge and clipped the top of off-stump. 

Senuran Muthusamy was dismissed for the first time in his Test career, thanks to a well thought through decision by umpire Nigel Llong which was then backed up by the DRS. 

Du Plessis, scored a very good 64, with his driving through the cover region a feature while his favoured sweep against the spinners was also on display. It took another bit of brilliance from Ashwin to end the South African skipper’s stay at the crease with the ball,  straightening off the surface, finding the edge with Ajinkye Rahane completing the catch at slip. 

That wicket came just before tea at which stage, it wouldn’t have been a surprise had South Africa folded. But Maharaj and Philander, showed patience, skill and courage to see off an energetic attack from India with the second new ball and then the spin and bounce from Jadeja and Ashwin.

A sign of Maharaj’s discomfort came when he grimaced after hitting a pull shot for four off Mohammed Shami and at various times he was getting his right shoulder, which he injured while trying to field a ball off his own bowling on Friday. 

He cut elegantly against the spinners and registered a maiden Test 50, which he celebrated by making a screen sign with his hands, a show of thanks to the South African squad’s computer analyst Prasanna Agoram, who’d helped Mharaj work out a game plan the night before. 

Maharaj was probably eyeing up a century when he turned one from Ashwin to Rohit Sharma at leg gully, but he was given a standing ovation by his teammates for an innings that included 12 fours in which he faced 132 balls.

Philander at one stage had his left elbow iced as well, gritted his teeth through more than three hours of batting and eventually finished not out on 44, when Kagiso Rabada was adjudged lbw for 2.

@shockerhess

 

The Star

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