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India stare at second defeat

Madhu Jawali, Centurion, DH News Service Jan 16 2018, 23:00 IST
PRIZED SCALP: South Africa's Lungi Ngidi celebrates the dismissal of India's Virat Kohli (unseen) at Supersport Park on Tuesday. Reuters photo

PRIZED SCALP: South Africa's Lungi Ngidi celebrates the dismissal of India's Virat Kohli (unseen) at Supersport Park on Tuesday. Reuters photo

India were left with a near-improbable task of saving the second Test and keeping the three-match series alive after they were reduced to 35/3 in pursuit of a record 287-run target for win.

The magnitude of India's challenge can be measured from the fact that the highest successful chase at the SuperSport Park has been 249 achieved by the Nasser Hussain-led England way back in 2000, and they still have to make 252 runs on the final day with only seven wickets left in hand. At stumps on the fourth day here on Tuesday, Cheteshwar Pujara (11 n.o.) and Parthiv Patel (5 n.o.), who came ahead of Rohit Sharma perhaps to form a right-left batting combination, were keeping vigil at the wicket.

India's already difficult task assumed even greater difficult proportions after their talismanic skipper Virat Kohli too fell cheaply following the dismissals of both the openers. Both M Vijay, chopping Kagiso Rabada onto his stumps, and Kohli, caught plumb in-front, were done in by the low bounce albeit the Indian skipper made it appear a lot lower than it actually was. It was an unplayable delivery though from Lungi Ngidi €“ the ball angling in sharply after pitching outside off.

Lungi had almost got Kohli in the first innings with a similar delivery but an inside edge had saved Kohli. Kohli reviewed the decision but the ball was hitting the top of middle. While South Africans joy at the fall of Kohli was understandable, booing him after he got out stuck like a sore thumb.

With the ball keeping low and the odd ball shooting up, it's not going to be easy for India negotiating a four-pronged home pace attack that's not just relentlessly aggressive but hostile as well. That Ngidi didn't as much have a second look after painfully hitting into Parthiv's ribcage, which left the batsman breathless for a moment, reflected their coldness.

Earlier, Mohammad Shami (4/49) and Ishant Sharma (2/40) did the damage to restrict South Africa, overnight 90/2, to 258 all out in their second innings. It was Shami's burst late in the first session that had prevented South Africa from running away with the game. The right-arm quick claimed three wickets in a spell of 7-2-26-3 to bring the tourists back into the game.

It needed perhaps the best delivery of the match yet to dislodge AB de Villiers (80, 121b, 10x4) who was threatening to take the game away from India. If India were relieved to have seen the back of de Villiers, their joy doubled soon when another set batsman Dean Elgar (61, 121b, 8x4) picked up Rahul at deep backward square-leg. India could have had du Plessis on his individual score of six in the next over itself when his glance off R Ashwin was grassed by Rahul at lone slip despite fully reaching the ball.

The disappointment was off-set to an extent when Quinton de Kock was dismissed in the next over. The southpaw edged Shami four times in as many balls and while the first three went for four, his luck ran out the fourth time when the nick went straight to Parthiv. The catch was so straightforward even Parthiv couldn't have dropped it.

For the first hour or so, it was de Villiers all the way with Elgar not too far behind. The right-left combination scored at a brisk rate €“ almost five runs an over €“ in the morning even as India toiled hard to separate the stand. It needed a peach of a delivery from Shami, the ball pitching on the off, kicking up and shaping away just enough before de Villiers could sway away from the line. Parthiv completed a simple catch as India fought back into the game.

At the start of the day it was presumed that India's best chance was in restricting South Africa to around 200 or just over that. But the way they are going about their chase, it seems now that even that would have been difficult to accomplish.

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