Johannesburg — Tuesday provided another examination for South Africa’s batters. It was one, sadly, that they didn’t pass.
Dean Elgar spoke before the Test about the hard chats the players had amongst themselves after the first match where South Africa failed to make 200 in both innings’. Elgar wanted to see action, based on those talks.
There was some, but not enough to take advantage of two periods of very hard work that had been done in 90 minutes of each of the morning and afternoon sessions. Test matches won’t be won when moments like that are allowed to lapse.
India’s bowling was excellent, but South Africa knew that would be the case. The pitch was tricky, again the home team wasn’t surprised by that. In Elgar and Keegan Petersen, South Africa got a platform in the morning. That pair shared a partnership of 74 runs for the second wicket. Elgar in that almost sadistic manner of his was happy to block and leave, looking ugly in the process, but blunting the new ball as he said before the match he needed to do.
Petersen was technically efficient. His forward defence is of the textbook variety and on Tuesday he was confident enough that when the Indians missed either line or length - which was very rare in the first session - he made sure to pounce. There were some delightful drives punched down the ground and through the cover region. On other occasions he flicked the ball nicely off his legs.
He was responsible for the majority of the scoring in the morning and his first Test half-century was richly deserved not just for the skill he showed Tuesday, but the courage he displayed in an hour of batting on Monday evening.
In the 30 minutes before lunch, all of Elgar and Petersen’s hard work was destroyed. The captain fished at one outside off-stump he could’ve left alone, Petersen threw his bat at and edged a wide ‘tempter,’ to the slips and Van der Dussen fell victim to a good delivery that bounced and seamed into him. There was some controversy generated by the TV replays about whether a clean catch was taken by Rishabh Pant, but the on-field decision stood. South Africa lost three wickets for 14 runs in those 30 minutes, all to Shardul Thakur.
After lunch, it was Temba Bavuma and Kyle Verreynne’s turn. Bavuma was wonderfully fluent, driving crisply, glancing the ball through the gully region with precision and in one instance smacking Ravi Ashwin for six over square leg. The running between the wickets was clever and aggressive as the pair added 60 runs for the fifth wicket.
In the 30 minutes before tea all of Bavuma and Verreynne’s hard work was destroyed. The vice captain didn’t get enough bat onto an attempted leg-side glance giving a diving Pant a catch. Verreynne got into a tangle and was trapped leg before wicket by one that seamed back into him. Both of those wickets fell to Thakur, giving him a first Test ‘five for.’ Kagiso Rabada casually lifted Mohammed Shami to mid-on and the Proteas had lost three wickets for 17 runs in 15 balls. It was the second gut punch of the day.
The lower order got the hosts a lead, but even the dismissals of Keshav Maharaj and Marco Jansen were sloppy, particularly given some of the shots they had played as each made 21 and the fact that runs are at a premium. It didn’t fit with the talk of toughness that Elgar had outlined the day before the match.
The lead was 27, but it was wiped out by the eighth over as South Africa’s quicks, with Lungi Ngidi the exception, missed their lengths allowing too many easy drives.
Unlike India in those last 30 minutes before the breaks in the first two sessions, South Africa finished poorly in the evening, with Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane - both under pressure - counter-attacking against a lot of loose bowling.
The Indian lead is 58 runs already. Another 100 tomorrow and they’ll be eyeing up that big slice of history they so desire in this country.
India first innings 202 (KL Rahul 50, Ravichandran Ashwin 46, Marco Jansen 4/31, Kagiso Rabada 3/64)
South Africa first innings 229 (Keegan Petersen 62, Temba Bavuma 50, Shardul Thakur 7/61, Mohammed Shami 2/52)
India second innings 85/2 (Cheteshwar Pujara 35*, Mayank Agarwal 23, Marco Jansen 1/18, Duanne Olivier 1/22)
India lead by 58 runs