Late Proteas implosion gifts India hope
Pretoria – South Africa lost three wickets for five runs late on Saturday to allow India back into the second Test match at Centurion.
Cruising at 246/3, the Proteas then wobbled with two suicidal runouts plaguing what had been an impressive day at the office up until then.
It was far from the high-octane Test cricket that was seen in Cape Town last week, but it was every bit as engaging.
At stumps on day one, South Africa were 269/6, thanks to a seriously classy 94 from Aiden Markram on his own patch and a meticulous 82 from Hashim Amla.
Both of those knocks oozed quality and the Indian bowlers – particularly the seamers – were made to toil on a day that saw temperatures rising to the mid-30s.
South Africa should have had a far stronger hold on proceedings, but after that late fightback India will feel much better about their chances.
Still with a fair amount of work to do in the field on Sunday, India’s character will be tested as they look to wrap up the innings and claw their way back into the series.
At the close of play, Faf du Plessis (24*) was at the wicket with Keshav Maharaj (10*).
The big news at the start of the day was 21-year-old Lungi Ngidi being handed a Test debut, though South Africans would have to wait a while longer to see him after Faf du Plessis won the toss and chose to bat.
Having taken a while to get going with Dean Elgar at the top of the innings, Markram began to find his touch in the last half-hour of the first session.
His innings was sublime and he displayed an array of scoring shots, dispatching 15 boundaries in his 150-ball knock.
Markram’s timing was crisp, and in front of his parents and his home crowd in his city of birth, he looked like he could bat all day.
Elgar (31) fell with the score at 85/1 when he was outfoxed by Ravichandran Ashwin (3/90) and caught at silly mid-off, but when Amla came to the wicket the South African scoreboard kept ticking over.
When Markram edged Ashwin to Parthiv Patel behind the stumps, he had put on 63 for the second wicket with Amla.
He would have wanted to kick himself, though, having cut well against Ashwin all day before getting one wrong.
AB de Villiers entertained briefly for his 20 before he chopped on from Ishant Sharma (1/32), who was the pick of the Indian seamers.
Amla and De Villiers had scored 51 for the third wicket; South Africa’s third successive half-century partnership of the day.
India would have been desperate to make further inroads at that stage to get back into the contest, but with Du Plessis and Amla ticking along comfortably, it didn’t look likely.
Amla had carded scores of 3 and 0 in the first Test at Newlands, but on this surface he looked at ease from the beginning to the end of his knock, which came in unfortunate fashion.
With a 29th Test ton firmly in his sights, Amla dropped a ball from Hardik Panya onto the leg side and didn’t look immediately interested in a run. Du Plessis, though, set off for the quick single.
Pandya made the pick-up off his own bowling, turned and ran Amla out.
It was an unnecessary dismissal from a South African perspective and it also sparked the late Proteas wobble, because in the very next over Ashwin had Quinton de Kock caught by Virat Kohli for a first ball duck.
Du Plessis was at the centre of the next run-out, too, except this time he was the one not interested in a single.
Pandya went short at Vernon Philander, who didn't look comfortable but somehow fended it off to a heavily-packed on-side field.
Perhaps out of panic, Philander set off for the single while Du Plessis was unmoved at the bowler’s end.
It left both batsmen at the same end, and India were gifted the easiest of comebacks.
That took South Africa from 246/3 to 251/6, and what should have been a dominant day at the office became one that India will be more satisfied with.