CAPE TOWN – India offered irrefutable evidence yesterday morning that they mean business in South Africa.
By reducing the home side to 12/3 on the first morning of the series which had Proteas batting coach Dale Benkenstein searching for a hiding place, the tourists demonstrated their desire to create history was not just talk.
But by the time the shadows lengthened over the hallowed old ground, they were rudely reminded of the enormity of their task though.
Faf du Plessis had resisted the temptation to unleash his “Fabulous Four” fast bowlers that included a returning Dale Steyn on a spicy Newlands pitch. That opportunity was granted to India with Bhuvneshwar Kumar accepting Du Plessis’ generosity with open arms.
Unfortunately for Bhuvneshwar his fellow pacemen could not follow his lead, and neither was he helped by some sloppy catching behind the stumps that allowed South Africa’s tail to wag with delight.
Also they would have known about AB de Villiers’ brilliance, but it is one thing planning to stop the brilliant De Villiers, and actually putting the brakes on it.
Indeed it took just one over for the former South African captain to swing the entire mood of the morning with four consecutive boundaries off Bhuvneshwar. With the assistance of current skipper Du Plessis, the Proteas were starting to bare their teeth.
“Luckily our phones get taken away, otherwise I would have been looking for an Uber to get back to the hotel,” joked Benkenstein, South Africa’s batting coach, as he spoke of the nightmare start.
“They are a quality bowling attack and at that stage (12/3), I was sitting there wondering how we were going to score a run.
“But through the genius of AB de Villiers and the tenacity of the captain… that partnership got us back in the game and got that belief back in the change room. I think it was just one over (from Bhuvneshwar) where AB just changed the game (with four boundaries). He made the bowlers have to worry about their lengths,” he added.
India certainly diluted their advantage the longer the day wore on.
Even after removing De Villiers (65) and Du Plessis (62) shortly after the lunch interval, the visitors still allowed the last five South African wickets to double the total with Quinton de Kock (43), Vernon Philander (23), Keshav Maharaj (35), Kagiso Rabada (26) and Steyn (16 not out) contributing valuable runs lower down the order.
It was just the confidence-booster the bowlers required before they got down to their real job. Given 11 overs to show what they could have done earlier in the day had they been given the opportunity, Philander made the new ball talk like only he can at Newlands.
After having a review turned down, he needed just a few more deliveries to send Murali Vijay packing before Steyn had Newlands on its feet when he bagged Shikhar Dhawan to move within just four scalps of passing Shaun Pollock’s all-time national record.
The real drama was left for last though when Morne Morkel lured Indian captain Virat Kohli into playing a loose shot away from his body.
If the action-packed first day was evenly poised before, the scales were now titled in the home team’s favour for India are heavily reliant on the skipper not just for runs, but also to lead them in the dog-fight that this series will ultimately morph into.
“It was quite an intense day, but ultimately we are very happy,” Benkenstein said. “We fought hard, we had a tough decision to make at the toss with the overhead conditions telling us to bat.
“We know he (Virat) is a fierce competitor. At Newlands we know the morning session also does a bit more, but we have got through a tough first day.”