A defiant half-century from Hashim Amla was all that stood between South Africa and an enormous deficit as India hit back hard in the second session of the final Test here on Thursday.
Amla was not out on 54 (110b, 7x4) his 37th Test half-century as South Africa went to tea on 141/6 still trailing India’s first innings total of 187 by 44 runs. Vernon Philander was with Amla at the crease on 13.
While his 213-minute stay at the crease has contained some very fine strokes, it has been an innings in which style has played second fiddle to substance.
The pitch remains one on which seam bowlers reign superior, with pronounced movement off the surface proving to be particularly disconcerting. While most of his teammates have struggled, Amla has found a way to keep going, making full use of the technology available to aid him in his quest.
Twice he survived via the ‘umpire’s call’ when India reviewed lbw decisions, and on a third occasion, with Amla on 41, Umpire Ian Gould’s decision to give him out was overturned the ball strike Amla outside the line of the stumps, and also missing according to Hawkeye.
Those were all critical interventions as far as Amla and South Africa were concerned with wickets falling fairly regularly at the other end.
A scratchy AB de Villiers – who would have been out on nought had India reviewed an lbw decision given ‘not out’ by Umpire Aleem Dar – was bowled for five by a prodigious in0swinger from the impressive Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Faf du Plessis shouldered arms, to a ball from Jasprit Bumrah, that darted back into him off the pitch and was bowled for eight, while Quinton de Kock’s poor run continued when he was caught behind off the inside edge for eight giving Bumrah a second wicket.
Far from the pitch settling down as the afternoon unfolded and with a ball that is 54 overs old, there is still plenty of assistance for all the seam bowlers.
Of them Bhuvneshwar Kumar has been the best for the Indians maintaining a great line, while his length – just back of a fullish one – has allowed the surface to help the ball deviate.
Any kind of lead on this pitch will be a good one, and if India can knock over South Africa relatively quickly after tea, they will feel they are on top of the game, despite their seemingly modest first innings total.