Honours even on opening day

India hit back in final session after fifties from Amla, Markram

Honours even on opening day

With the score reading almost 200 for two nearly half an hour into the final session, South Africa appeared seemingly in control of the second Test but two run-outs and a strike each by Ishant Sharma (1/32) and R Ashwin (3/90), two best bowlers in action on the day, brought India right back into the game.

AB de Villiers dragged Ishant on to his stumps while Ashwin induced an edge off a lazy shot from Quinton de Kock who was snapped up by an alert Virat Kohli at slip. On either side of de Kock's dismissal, Hardik Pandya was involved in two run-outs. While he sent back a well-set Hashim Amla with a direct hit at the non-striker's end, Vernon Philander had a brain-freeze moment when he ended up at the same end with skipper Faf du Plessis after fending off a Pandya delivery. From 246 for three to 251 for six, South Africa had surrendered their considerable advantage.

Though du Plessis (25 n.o.) and Keshav Maharaj (10 n.o.) saw off an extended opening day of the second Test to help finish South Africa at 269 for six, India will be far more satisfied with the  way they ended the proceedings.                

After the pacy, bouncy, swinging and seaming conditions in Newlands where not a single moment passed without an incident, the SuperSport Park turned out to be a damp squib. With the city sizzling at almost 30 degree Celsius and with the harsh sun making it a lot hotter here, the overhead conditions weren't conducive for swing while the absence of grass ensured there was not much lateral movement with the new ball. While bounce was more pronounced, there wasn't much pace with occasional edges falling short of wicketkeeper and slip cordon. These were the ideal conditions for batting and South Africa made most of them by moving to 182 for two by the tea break.

Opener Aiden Markram (94, 150b, 15x4) fell short of a well-deserved century, his second 90-plus score in only his seven Test innings and after twin failures in the first Test, Amla (82, 153b, 14x4), the crowd favourite, extended South Africa's hold over India's bowlers. Dean Elgar (31) wasn't convincing during a stand of 81 for the opening wicket but his partner Markram showed just why the 23-year-old is rated so high. A punch through cover and a flick past mid-wicket off Mohammad Shami set the tone for his attacking innings and the right-hander maintained the same tempo to bat the hosts into ascendency.

Once he was done in by Ashwin, Amla took control of the innings. Though Amla survived two half chances, his innings wasn't without his usual touch of class. There were pleasing cover drives, dismissive flicks that he so nonchalantly pulls off and punches down the ground.

With not much grass cover and the harsh sun beating down the ground, the dry pitch began taking turn on the opening day itself and that Ashwin had to send down 31 overs of off-spin summed up both the nature of the pitch and the ineffectiveness of the Indian pacers in these conditions. Only Ishant, who replaced Bhuvneshwar Kumar, looked penetrative among pacemen.                  

Virat Kohli too sounded puzzled at the way the pitch had changed over the last two days as he effected three changes to the side, expectedly bringing in KL Rahul for Shikhar Dhawan and choosing Parthiv Patel in place of the injured wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha. Ishant coming in for Bhuvneshwar, who was their most successful bowler in Newlands, may have surprised some but it was a justifiable decision given the conditions. With not much swing in the air and little movement off the pitch, Bhuvneshwar, who doesn't have either the pace or bounce to trouble the batsmen, would have been a lot less effective here.

 

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