Johannesburg — Thursday holds plenty of promise for a nerve shredding conclusion to this second Test between India and South Africa.
It is a conclusion this match deserves. It’s been a stunner. Proper Test cricket, with drama from the first session on Monday, to Wednesday evening’s tense finish to the third day in the gloom.
Dean Elgar got struck two nasty blows, one on the shoulder from Jasprit Bumrah and another on the back from Mohammed Shami. But the South African captain, who often seems to revel in pain, refused to be budged. He reached stumps not out on 46, having spent three hours on this challenging Wanderers pitch.
Rassie van der Dussen, on 11, will resume with him Thursday morning, he having blunted the Indians for close to an hour, surviving some close shouts against Ravi Ashwin, enduring a few plays and misses against the quicks and copping an earful from Rishabh Pant - most likely related to Van der Dussen’s first innings dismissal.
Aiden Markram and Keegan Petersen were the wickets to fall after India set South Africa 240 to try and tie this series. Markram had played fluently in scoring 31 in 44 minutes, striking six fours, including a delicious cover drive against his nemesis Shami.
But he fell victim to a storming over from the irrepressible Shardul Thakur, playing and missing a few times, before eventually being trapped lbw.
Petersen also looked good again, backing up the 62 he scored in the first innings by making 28, sharing a partnership of 46 for the second wicket with Elgar. He simply missed a ball from Ravi Ashwin that he tried to flick around the corner, and was trapped lbw in front of leg stump.
The contest as a whole continued to swing one way then another on Wednesday; 66 runs in the first hour for India, then four wickets for South Africa in the second, with Kagiso Rabada finally producing a momentum changing spell by picking up three wickets in 15 balls. The next 90 minutes brought 78 runs for the Indian tail, which was superbly marshalled by Hanuma Vihari, before the Proteas openers, Elgar and Markram shared a stand of 47, their highest partnership in nine innings.
It was another riveting day, in what has been an enthralling match which is heading for a thrilling conclusion. It is a real shame there can’t be spectators here, even if just 2000.
The pitch will play as big a part in Thursday’s proceedings as the players and umpires. The Indians will feel encouraged that if they can get one wicket — especially if that wicket is Elgar’s — then more will follow.
It will certainly be tense, and tempers may boil over as they threatened to do Wednesday with Bumrah and Marco Jansen involved in animated discussion, and Pant and Van der Dussen’s exchange of views.
There is so much at stake for both sides. History beckons for India, and for a young Proteas team, that has had limited exposure to the Test arena recently, an opportunity to claim its biggest win since that triumph over England in 2019.
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 266 (Ajinkya Rahane 58, Cheteshwar Pujara 53, Lungi Ngidi 3/43, Marco Jansen 3/67)
South Africa second innings 118/2 (Dean Elgar 46*, Aiden Markram 31, Ravichandran Ashwin 1/14, Shardul Thakur 1/24)
South Africa need 122 runs to win