Bowlers keep India in the hunt

Bowlers keep India in the hunt

The Indian pacers may not be as tall, as big and as fast as their South African counterparts but what they lack in build and speed, they make up for it with skill, variety and just enough pace to leave the batsmen disconcerted in these conditions.

After inspiring performances in the first two Tests that have left even the South Africans surprised and impressed at the same time, the visiting pacemen produced another fine exhibition of fast bowling to keep India in the third Test. After giving away South Africa, overnight 6/1, the first session when the home team collected 75 runs for the loss of two wickets, including that of night watchman Kagiso Rabada (30), the Bhuvneshwar Kumar-led Indian attack hit back in style to take out the remaining seven wickets on either side of the tea break and leave the match on a razor's edge.

Only Hashim Amla, lucky to escape two lbw shouts on umpire's call, managed to weather the storm on a difficult surface on his way to 61 (239m, 121b, 7x4), which was marked by pleasing punches and flicks as well as uncertain moments and painful body blow, even as other top-order batsmen failed to stand the scrutiny of Indian bowlers. In fact, the lower-order batsmen added 83 runs in South Africa's total of 194 all out in 65.5 overs as the hosts just about managed to overhaul India's first innings score of 187 all out.

India in reply were 49/1 in 17 overs for an overall lead of 42 runs. The tourists opened with M Vijay and Parthiv Patel and the latter perished while doing the job that he was sent for. KL Rahul (16 n.o.) and Vijay (13 n.o.) then showed good application and determination to add 32 runs for the unbroken second wicket. A target of around 250 will be tough to chase on this surface where the cracks are rapidly coming into play.     

Bhuvneshwar (3/44) was once again India's best bowler on the show but Jasprit Bhumrah produced some unplayable overs to return his first five-for (5/54) in only his third Test. Bhuvneshwar didn't receive the kind of support he needed in the first session but Bumrah stepped up to the plate in the second and third to restrict South Africa to a total that ensured India stayed in the game.

Bhuvneshwar bowled beautifully in the first spell, beating both overnight batsmen – opener Dean Elgar and Rabada– on numerous occasions. He consistently hit the right lengths and maintained impeccable lines besides getting the ball to jag either way. Rabada and Elgar kept swishing at the ball either missing or occasionally edging it.

One such ball gobbled up Elgar who was all at sea through his stint, especially against Bhuvneshwar. The right-arm pacer pitched one on the leg and then got it to seam away and Elgar couldn't but nick it behind the wickets to Parthiv.

That was the lone success for a long time as Rabada and Amla survived a testing period with some pluck and plenty of luck. As the Indians ploughed away without much success, Rabada and Amla began to pick some useful boundaries to eat away into India's lead. The duo added 64 runs for the third wicket and this was more than what South Africa would have expected from Rabada. The right-hander faced 86 balls to keep his top-order batsmen getting exposed to the new ball early.

His resistance finally came to an end minutes before lunch when Ishant Sharma got the ball kick away and the batsman couldn't avoid nicking it to gully where Ajinkya Rahane took a sharp catch as India heaved a sigh of relief.

Post lunch, Bhuvneshwar removed AB de Villiers, who was lucky to survive an lbw shout after India decided against reviewing the not out verdict, with an inswinging delivery that even a batsman of his class couldn't get away with as the ball ducked in to knock off the middle stump. Faf du Plessis' error in judgment saw the top of off shattered as he shouldered arm to an incoming Bumrah delivery.

Having reduced the Proteas to 125 for six, India had a good chance of snatching a 30-40 runs lead but Vernon Philander (35) stitched 44 runs with Amla to prolong India's wait.

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