Johannesburg, January 5: The South African batters, led by their plucky skipper Dean Elgar, dug their heels in to come within 122 points of a series level win over a determined India as the second Test looked set for a gripping day four here Wednesday.
Elgar (46 batters on 121 balls) took bad hits on crack-spitting deliveries but kept his team on course at 118-for-2 in pursuit of a tricky 240-run goal set by the India after a solid century. partnership of the duo under the fire of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane.
Shardul Thakur (1/21), who is in the middle of a big test match, got his eighth victim of the match in an over during which the ball sewed, bounced and lay low in one spot with the last finding opener Aiden Platelets of Markram (31).
Keegan Petersen (28) added 46 with his skipper before Ravichandran Ashwin (1/14) drifted one and turned to get a leg before the decision went his way.
However, as with every new inning of this game where the heavy roll eased the batter by ironing the divots over the right length spots, Elgar was ready to play the lousy game putting his body on the line, getting hit in the knuckles , chest, shoulder. and even on the head prompting a quick concussion test in the field.
While South Africa want them half a foot through the winning door, there have been plenty of instances in the series where a batting slump has changed the course of the game.
There are two things that would worry India before the fourth day.
In this test, the hitting conditions improved as the match progressed — 202, 229, 266 — and secondly, Mohammed Siraj is far from in shape and only managed four of the 40 overs sent so far.
The Indian team, in their minds, knows that he is a short bowler.
While 240 as a target is more than decent, India could have pushed it a little further if Rishabh Pant’s poor shot selection, which angered legendary Sunil Gavaskar in the commentary box, didn’t get in the way. is not produced at the most inopportune moment.
After being hit by a Kagiso Rabada bouncer, Pant charged another short ball like a raging bull to be caught behind, prompting Gavaskar to question his sense of ‘responsibility’ by urging ‘nonsense’ in natural game outfit “to stop.
But it was a day when India’s middle order was finally restored through combative half centuries since Pujara and Rahane.
Pujara (53 from 86 balls) and Rahane (58 from 78 balls) breathed new life into their respective careers with timely shots while Hanuma Vihari (40 not out) also played a crucial role in swelling the lead India’s overall as they finished their second set at 266.
Kagiso Rabada (20-3-77-3) was an inspiration in the last half hour before lunch by bringing his team back with quick layoffs.
Marco Jansen (17-4-67-3) and Lungi Ngidi (10.1-1-43-3) also played their part to perfection.
India’s middle order, which has flattered to cheat most of the time for the past couple of years, has done its job and also got some much-needed belated support from Shardul Thakur (28).
Pujara and Rahane, in a rarely seen counter attack mode, added 111 carries in just 23.2 overs, getting some breathing room for themselves.
Realizing that time is running out for them, both hitters decided against trying to hang around as they looked for scoring opportunities.
The half-volleys were driven imperiously and the width was disdainfully sent to the wicket.
When Jansen played a short, Rahane uncorked the slash over the point for a six. Pujara’s 50 came out with 62 balls while Rahane’s half-century ended in 67, signaling they were trying to show ‘intention’ and put the team’s interest above everything else.
They hit 18 fours and a six between them.
There was a time when India were 155 to two with a 128 lead and it looked like South Africa’s propensity to play too short or too full was proving damaging.
But then Rabada, the best exponent of fast bowling in South Africa since Dale Steyn, produced an inspired spectacle that is so synonymous with the traditional format.
Rabada found that ideal length back and he landed on the crack to deflect sharply, taking the edge off Rahane in goalkeeper Kyle Verreynne’s gloves.
Pujara then got one from Rabada in the off-stump channel to be plumb in front despite pushing far forward.
However, the man who let everyone down was Pant, who first received a snorter from Rabada that hit the visor of his helmet as he tried to clumsily defend, then charged in to convert a short ball in a half volley. The result was an advantage for the goalkeeper.
It was Vihari and Shardul, who were involved in a 41-run stand for the seventh wicket and then had two small but hugely important stands of 17 and 21 respectively with tailenders Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Siraj to set up a good chase for Proteas.
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