Interestingly, it was Pujara and Virat Kohli who saved the opening session blues for the visitors after the scoreboard read 13/2 after 9 overs. The fire and ice combination ensured that not only did they put on 84 runs for the third wicket – the highest in the series for India – but also put a total on the board which gives the bowlers enough room to play India into a position of strength on Thursday.
On a wicket where the ball seamed around all day and produced variable bounce every time it hit a crack, Pujara waited for 53 balls before opening his account off the 54th ball. Even as the crowd cheered him as he finally picked a single —he too had a smile on his face— he showed rest of the batsmen in the team, and especially the openers how to bat on wickets conducive to fast bowling.
Speaking to the media at the end of the day, Pujara did admit that it was one of the toughest wickets he had played on. Coming from a man who has played many a match-winning knocks for Team India, it says a lot. "This is one of the toughest pitches I've played on. And as we saw, it was difficult to score some runs, especially in the first session. It was difficult to rotate the strike. It has a lot of bounce, it has seam movement. And there is enough pace now. So we had to work hard to score runs, but the total we have, I think it is as good as scoring 300 on any wicket. As I said, this is one of the toughest pitches I have played on, so you need to take your time and you need to get used to the bounce and lateral movement,” he said.
It had rained till 6am and the overcast conditions suggested that winning the toss would mean bowling first, especially when you have five fast bowlers in the team. Kohli had brought back Bhuvneshwar Kumar instead of R Ashwin. But the history at the Wanderers suggests that the wicket only gets faster on the second and third day and it is best to bat first when you win the toss. Yet, the question in everyone’s mind when Kohli decided to bat was whether you throw yourself into the fire to avoid the frying pan? But Pujara supported his skipper well.
"I think as the game progresses, we are very sure that this wicket will be difficult to bat on. As we saw even in the later stages today, the cracks are opening up and a couple of balls deviated a lot. I mean, I haven't seen deviation like that before. As the game progresses I think this wicket will have variable bounce and cracks will open up, so it will be difficult to bat on. That's the reason we chose to bat first," he said.
With a total of 187 looking as good as 300 as per Pujara, it is now the turn of the bowlers to shine on Day 2. And the start has been positive with Bhuvneshwar Kumar sending back Aiden Markram before stumps on the first day. The Proteas still trail by 181 with rain in the air, going into the second day.
"As we saw, we got a wicket, and if we bowl well, I think we'll get them out. I would say it was a good day for us. So if we bowl well I think we have a very good chance, and I am very hopeful that we have enough runs on this wicket. We would like to restrict them to below 150," Pujara said.
South Africa all-rounder Andile Phehlukwayo feels staying positive will be the key for the home side. "It's a really good wicket. You've got to be really positive and look to score, otherwise there is a ball that has your number on that type of wicket. You have to be looking to stay ahead of the game. If you just hang in there, try to get bowlers into 2nd and 3rd spells, you can cash in," he said.
Clearly the game has been well set-up by Pujara and skipper Kohli and it is now turn of the Indian pacers to seal a first innings lead and take the driver’s seat in the final Test of the three-game series at the historic Bull Ring.
Andile PhehlukwayoBhuvneshwar KumarCheteshwar PujaraIndia vs South Africakagiso rabadaSouth Africa vs India 2018virat kohli
First Published: January 25, 2018, 8:17 AM IST