Johannesburg: Much more than the two teams, it was the pitch, which grabbed the centre stage on the third day of the second Test between India and South Africa at the Wanderers on Friday.
Earlier termed as, ‘poor’, the pitch worsened with the widening of the cracks which followed uneven bounce as the batsmen from both the sides were hit multiple times, prompting physios to run out for help. Eventually, it a high-rising delivery from Jasprit Bumrah that hit Dean Elgar on the grille, which lead the umpires to call off play for the day.
Former players and commentators had rated this pitch poorly earlier in the day as many felt it was, ‘dangerous’ to play on but match referee Andy Pycroft after a discussion with the umpires and the captains, decided that the match would resume at the normal time on Saturday.
Even amidst this furore regarding the pitch, the Indian batsmen stood tall and posted a challenging 241-run target for the hosts to chase down, with two full days remaining.
The visitors didn’t get off to a good start, losing KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara early but skipper Virat Kohli proved why he is a class apart when it comes to batting as he led the way with a determined 41, on a pitch that was difficult to bat on. Even as the bowlers dictated terms on the day, Kohli’s shots of the front foot just went on to show how confident he is when he has the willow in hand. The 29-year old, in the process also went on to score the most runs by an Indian captain in Tests with 3456 runs, surpassing the likes of MS Dhoni (3454 runs) and the legendary Sunil Gavaskar (3449 runs).
His innings of 41 of 79 balls was ended by Kagiso Rabada who went through his defenses and although many would have felt that the Indian batting were headed to another collapse, comeback man Ajinkya Rahane and the ever-dependable Bhuvneshwar Kumar had other plans in mind.
As a matter of fact, it was their 55-run stand that took India from 148/6 to 203/6 which automatically gave the visitors an edge, given the fact that batting on this wicket wasn’t an easy task. Touted as India’s best batsman in overseas conditions, Rahane added further weight to that statement with a solid 48 of 68 balls that was all about grit and courage. Kumar, carried on from where he left in the first innings as he contributed 33 crucial runs to the total to extend India’s lead and make things more tough for the Proteas.
Also, Mohammad Shami’s entertaining 27 of 28 balls with two huge sixes deserves a special mention as India ended their second innings on 247, which meant that the hosts would have to chase 241 for a 3-0 whitewash.
The South African pacers too bowled with a lot of heart as Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada ended with three wickets each.
If India’s courage with the bat wasn’t enough, the bowling unit led by Shami once again put India in front as the Bengal pacer got rid of opener Aiden Markram for just four, giving his team a spectacular start.
But the pitch once again grabbed the spotlight as a Bumrah bouncer hit Elgar hard on the helmet grille, leaving him stunned.
With 224 more runs for South Africa to get for a win, Kohli and co would fancy their chances with the kind of form shown by his bowlers in the series so far.
South Africa 194 all out and 17/1 ( Dean Elgar 11*, Aiden Markram 4; Mohammad Shami 1/7) need 224 more runs to win against India 187 all out and 247 all out (Ajinkya Rahane 48, Virat Kohli 41; Morne Morkel 3/47).