Indian batsmen falter again

Indian batsmen falter again

With every correct step forward, Virat Kohli seems to take two backwards.

While his batting unit has been struggling to find its feet against the South African pacemen, he puzzlingly adds another quick to his attack Bhuvneshwar Kumar replacing R Ashwin -- even as the hosts include fast-bowling all-rounder in Andile Phelukwayo in place of left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj. Having gone with a five-pronged seam attack, including all-rounder Hardik Pandya, and after winning a rare toss, he strangely opts to bat first on a green top in overcast conditions.  

The thought of batting getting progressively difficult may have influenced Kohli's decision to bat but when, barring him, each of the Indian batsmen is struggling in these conditions, his move smacked of false bravado. Instead of giving his bowlers the ideal conditions to bowl, he threw his batsmen, already down in confidence, to the wolves.  

With overhead conditions aiding movement in the air and underfoot conditions assisting lateral movement, the South African pacemen hit the right lengths to dismiss the tourists for 187 in 76.4 overs with only Kohli (54, 146, 106b, 9x4) and Cheteshwar Pujara (50, 179b, 8x4) making contributions of any note.

In reply, the hosts had reached six for the loss of Aiden Markram when the stumps were drawn on an extended opening day of the third and final Test here at the Wanderers stadium on Wednesday. Dean Elgar (4 n.o.) and nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada (0 n.o.) were at the crease at the end of the day with South Africa trailing India by 181 runs.

Kohli played some attractive strokes but never was he in control of his innings with rub of the green going his way. He was dropped twice –- once on 11 and then later on 32 –- and tried some extravagant shots but he hung on to forge an 84-run stand with an ultra-cautious Pujara, who consumed 53 balls before his individual score moved from zero to one. Once he was gone, succumbing to a sucker ball from Lungi Ngidi, it didn't take much time for the Indian innings disintegrate.

As contrasting as Kohli and Pujara's innings were, they were also complementary to each other at the same time. One wouldn't have happened without the other, so to say. Without Kohli's robust presence at the other end, Pujara wouldn't have managed to go so many dot balls without pressure. On a wicket where the batsmen never felt in, the duo did well by sticking to their natural approach.      

Rahane falls

Ajinkya Rahane, who replaced Rohit Sharma, departed early off a marginal lbw call. But then he was lucky to be there that "long" in the first place – having got out on two caught at slip but only to survive after replays confirmed that Vernon Philander had overstepped. This was followed by the second highest partnership of the innings – a grand 31 between Pujara and Parthiv Patel. During this association, Pujara brought up his first fifty of this series.

But for a batsman so well set, he got out poking and nicking behind the wickets. Parthiv and Hardik Pandya, too, fell at the same score of 144 as the Indian batting imploded in the post-tea session.

They lost their last six wickets for the addition of 43 runs with all the five pacemen that South Africa used getting into the wickets column while eight of India's batsmen didn't reach even the double digit. Bhuvneshwar Kumar once again showed how far he has come on as a batsman with a useful 30 that brought India's total closer to 200.      

In the early part of play, Morne Morkel troubled the Indian openers with his pace and bounce but Philander, with his ability to swing and seam the ball, was always going to be a bigger threat.

K L Rahul fell to an inside edge, failing to cover Philander's incoming ball, while his partner M Vijay once again fell to an uncharacteristic shot, chasing Rabada's widish ball.            

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