Proteas bowlers will have to show massive improvement on Friday. Photo: BackpagePix

JOHANNESBURG – Around the time India started their second innings - seven runs in arrears - Dale Steyn, chilling in Cape Town, but still firmly engaged with proceedings here tweeted: “Big bowling effort here, attack the poles and let the ball do the talking!”

If only that message had been displayed on the big screen here.

Truly the South Africans should not have needed reminding. This has been a bowler’s game, with brilliant skill and patience required by Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Hashim Amla to make runs. 

Pitch the ball anywhere in the vicinity of the stumps and there are wickets to be had. South Africa’s bowlers didn’t do enough of that in the 17 overs they had at India. India’s batsmen weren’t required to play at almost half the number of deliveries they faced. That kind of inaccuracy in a match with such small margins could be fatal.

It will require a massive improvement in the first session on Friday, to get themselves back in the game. 

The home team’s batsmen led by Amla, had fought tooth and nail to eke out the miniscule lead, which was erased by the fourth over of India’s second innings. 

Much like Pujara and Kohli, Amla’s was an innings of supreme batsmanship and the luck that came his way courtesy of a couple of decisions on the DRS was deserved given the circumstances. 

Like every batsmen in this match Amla had difficulty early in trying to adjust to the prodigious movement off the surface, and he chose to cover off-stump and even stride outside it, as a means to nullify the disconcerting deviation. It was a risky ploy, which exposed his stumps, and in one of those instances where the ‘umpire’s call,’ worked in his favour against Ishant Sharma he really was very lucky indeed.

But it was a ploy that worked, not only in opening up the legside, but also in giving the India bowlers something else to think about, and when they bowled too wide of off-stump Amla, was able to cut and drive.

His partnership in the morning with nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada was vital and it did seem to have put India off their game as their bowlers, with the exception of Bhuvneshwar Kumar struggled with their discipline. Rabada’s innings of 30, was impactful featuring some flamboyant shotmaking. 

The stand of 64 for the fourth wicket gave South Africa an advantage at lunch, but then Kumar and Jasprit Bumrah produced a couple of rippers as the hosts lost AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock for the addition of just 33 runs in 11 overs.

A 44-run partnership for the seventh wicket between Amla and Vernon Philander swayed the advantage back South Africa’s way, with Amla bringing up a 37th Test half-century in the process. 

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The manner of his dismissal infuriated him, and there was a rare display of his bitter disappointment after he’d flicked Bumrah to Hardik Pandya at square leg after scoring 61, an innings that lasted nearly four hours - quite an achievement on this pitch - in which he faced 121 balls and hit seven fours. 

The outcome of the game will determine how much value he attaches to the innings, but in isolation it was one of his better performances in the last 12 months. 

Philander’s 35 too was a fine effort.

Bumrah was India’s most successful bowler claiming a maiden Test ‘five-for’, but Kumar bowled with better quality, and finished with 3/44 from 19 overs.

South Africa didn’t have much of an advantage but the little it had was given away too easily with the wicket of Parthiv Patel, surprisingly pushed up the order to open, all they have to show for 17 decidedly poor overs of bowling.

Day 2 of 5:

India 187 and 49/1

South Africa 194

IOL Sport

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