Starting the day at 28/3, the visitors finished on 209 and then restricted the hosts to 65/2 at stumps, a lead of 142, to still garner hopes of making a match out of this one. Hashim Amla (4) and Kagiso Rabada (2) are the unbeaten batsmen.
Credit for staying afloat goes to none other than Pandya. Considered the next big thing in Indian cricket, the young sensation showed immense determination and adaptability to stand ground even when the likes of Dale Steyn and Kagiso Rabada beat him all ends up at the start of the innings. He was ready to miss, but he wasn’t ready to get out. He looked ugly, but he wasn’t willing to compromise his wicket. And the end result was a masterful 93 that helped India ensure that South Africa had a lead of only 77 when they came out to bat in the second innings.
He then returned to pick two wickets to end of an amazing day on the field. Pandya did get a life on 71 when Quinton de Kock missed an easy stumping off Keshav Maharaj, but that is a part of the game. It does not register on the scoreboard.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar must also be praised for hitting an 86-ball 25 in trying conditions to provide Pandya the support he needed with the top-order failing to apply itself late on Friday and in the first two sessions on Saturday. Having picked 4 wickets on Thursday, Bhuvneshwar returned to bide time in the middle and ensure that the final India total has some respectability to it.
Having learnt from the opening innings when they were 12/3 to start with, the hosts looked to apply themselves in the second innings with openers Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar leading from the front with a partnership of 52 at the top of the innings before Pandya removed Markram for 34, caught by Bhuvneshwar. But Pandya then removed Elgar for 25 to give the Indian players something to cheer about at the fag end of the second day’s play.
Earlier, it was the perfect start for the Indians as overnight batsmen Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma played out the first hour without losing a wicket. But just when it looked like the two were slowly starting to get a hang of the wicket, Rohit was caught plumb in front by Rabada. Not only did Rohit (11) get out at the wrong time, he also wasted a review as he asked for the DRS to be implanted even after looking like a dead duck.
With the score reading 57/4, R Ashwin joined Pujara in the middle and the two took India to lunch with a sense of solidarity that had even chief coach Ravi Shastri appreciate their effort in the dressing room. But the joy was short-lived as Vernon Philander sent back Pujara (26) off the first ball after lunch as he pitched one just on the off-stump and got it to move away quite a bit. In fact, it was a ball that could have easily been left as it was travelling on the 7th stump when he edged that for Faf du Plessis to complete an easy catch.
The score read 76/5 as Pandya walked in to join Ashwin in the middle. But the partnership did not last long as even though Pandya looked to be the one struggling, Ashwin (12) edged one from Philander straight to Quinton. Wriddhiman Saha too did not bother the scorers as he shouldered arms to a ball from Steyn to walk back for a duck. With the team reeling at 92/7, Bhuvneshwar Kumar joined Pandya and the two kept fighting like warriors. They missed some, edged some, but never gave up. They kept fighting.
At one point, Bhuvneshwar’s contribution was just 2 runs when their partnership reached 50. But after that, Bhuvneshwar too started opening up and playing a couple of shots. But with the partnership on 99, post tea, Morne Morkel had Bhuvneshwar (25) caught by Quinton. The score read 191/8 and after that it was solely on Pandya to strike fast and reach his second Test century.
Even though Pandya looked on course, a bouncer from Rabada hit him on the upper abdomen and he was never the same. Trying to upper cut the bowler in the next over, Pandya (93) ended up giving an easy catch to Quinton. The Shami and Jasprit Bumrah partnership was always about decreasing South Africa’s lead to as less as possible and the innings finally folded up at 209. The last four Indian batsmen had scored 128 runs – 99 of them scored by Pandya and Bhuvneshwar.
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First Published: January 7, 2018, 8:10 AM IST