JOHANNESBURG – India may be very pleased that they lost just two wickets in the first session of the final Sunfoil Test with South Africa here on Wednesday.
The tourists went to lunch on 45/2 with skipper Virat Kohli on 24 and Cheteshwar Pujara, an extremely patient 5.
It was a morning that was tailor made for seam bowling - overcast skies and a pitch, with a lush covering of green grass - making Kohli’s decision to bat, upon winning the toss a very brave one.
The Indians, once again made changes to their starting eleven, two this time, dropping off-spinner Ravi Ashwin for Bhuvneshwar Kumar and finally, calling up Ajinkya Rahane, who wasn’t picked for the first two Tests, in place of Rohit Sharma.
The South Africans predictably dropped spinner Keshav Maharaj, but somewhat surprisingly picked all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo ahead of Theunis de Bruyn, meaning they started the match with five seam bowlers.
Given the conditions, it was no surprise that Vernon Philander, playing his 50th Test, proved such a threat. He had the ball seaming one way then another, providing a searching examination of the Indian batsmen’s technique and mental fortitude.
Opener KL Rahul failed the test getting an inside edge to one that seamed back into him, with Quinton de Kock taking a good catch behind.
On this kind of surface and in the conditions, Murali Vijay’s dismissal was almost unforgivable, as he drove lavishly at Kagiso Rabada, to be caught behind after making 8. Vijay had been very expansive throughout the morning, playing and missing often.
Pujara took 54 balls to get the off the mark - the second highest number of balls for an Indian batsmen to get off the mark in Tests - surviving a narrow lbw appeal - that the South Africans also reviewed - against Philander.
Philander’s opening spell finished after eight overs, included seven maidens while he conceded just the one run.
However he did make a major mistake too, missing Kohli at mid-off after the Indian captain had toe-ended an attempted pull of Rabada. Kohli was on 11 at the time.