South African bowlers Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander handed their batting colleagues a lesson in guts, gumption and application to frustrate India on a battling middle day in the second Test here on Saturday.
Joining forces after their middle-order was ripped apart on Saturday morning following a top-order implosion on Friday evening, Maharaj (72, 132b, 12x4) and Philander (44 n.o., 192b, 6x4) forged a brilliant backs-to-the-wall 109-run stand for the ninth wicket to haul South Africa from deep trouble at the MCA Stadium. Their doughty stand over 43.1 overs — the longest partnership in terms of overs for South Africa this tour — almost carried South Africa to stumps before R Ashwin struck twice towards the end, the Proteas innings ending at 275 all out in 105.4 overs.
A weekend crowd of a little over 13,000 filled up the venue in anticipation of a crushing India win after the visitors were reduced to 36/3 in reply to the hosts’ mammoth 601/5 declared on Friday evening. And it seemed like the fans, who had to struggle to get their way in, would get their wishes fulfilled when the impressive Mohammed Shami had nightwatchman Andre Nortje caught brilliantly by Virat Kohli at slips in just the eighth ball of the day. South Africa then slipped to 53/5 when Wriddhiman Saha completed a stunning catch diving to his right to dismiss Theunis de Bruyn off Umesh Yadav.
Staring at a collapse similar to the second innings of the first Test in Visakhapatnam, skipper Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock steadied the ship a bit with a counter-attacking 75-run stand for the sixth wicket. But Ashwin (4/69) produced a moment of magic to dismiss de Kock, the ball pitching and moving away to crash into the left-hander’s stumps. A befuddled de Kock couldn’t believe what the ball had done.
Ashwin then unleashed another cracking delivery to dismiss du Plessis and reduce South Africa to 162/8. After bowling two classic off-breaks, he got one to pitch and straighten. Du Plessis had already committed to a forward defensive push and the ball took the edge before landing safely into the hands of Ajinkya Rahane.
At this stage, a little after lunch, the end seemed near for South Africa and by the looks of it, they could have been asked to follow-on by Kohli. But Philander and Maharaj, battling a sore shoulder, refused to throw in the towel with a fighting stand that has not only rescued South Africa, but has also given them genuine belief of escaping with a draw.
During the initial part of their stand, they focussed only at blocking deliveries. Showing wonderful defensive technique, they dealt with the potent Indian attack with composure that was sorely missing from their batting colleagues, who succumbed to fatigue of having fielded for two full days. Runs came in a trickle but their only goal was to try and delay the inevitable as much as they could.
They continued to bat until tea, frustrating the Indians and the sun-soaked fans. Kohli, for large parts, kept attacking with Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, but Philander and Maharaj batted without any discomfort. They didn’t play a shot in anger, putting a massive price on their wickets. The harder India tried, the better they defended.
Maharaj started to grow in confidence little after tea, going for his shots when the ball was tossed up by Ashwin and Jadeja. He brought up his maiden Test half-century to huge cheers from the South African dressing room. At the other end, Philander was resolute.
India were beginning to feel the heat and needed a moment of error in decision making from either batsman to break the stand. Maharaj, with the stumps in sight, flicked Ashwin straight to leg-slip as India breathed a sigh of relief. Ashwin then polished off Rabada in quick time to cap a frustrating day on a high.