Johannesburg: South Africa are not an easy side to defeat as a record of just three Test losses in nearly four years testifies. India are finding that out first hand in Johannesburg, as the home side put up a stubborn resistance on the fourth day. India remain on top, more so after having squeezed out two major wickets, but another day of intense combat awaits them on Sunday.
India lost wickets regularly on the fourth day but that didn’t alter the match situation much as Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli had already put the visitors in a dominant position yesterday. By the time India were bowled out midway through the second session, the target had reached never-chased-before proportions of 458.
South Africa’s redoubtable batting line-up is stacked with players who have stellar second-innings records, and grinding out five-and-a-half sessions isn’t a task beyond them. It wasn’t Jacques Kallis (second innings avg 56.06) or Hashim Amla (53.51) or even opener Graeme Smith (48.06) who led the resistance early on. Instead, it was Alviro Petersen, possibly playing for his place in the side after a lean run in recent months, who soaked up much of the bowling and led a sprightly start.
India’s bowlers didn’t get alarming movement with the new ball and though there were edges and beatens aplenty, the only chance that came their way was a tough overhead catch for Virat Kohli on the first ball Smith faced off Zaheer Khan. It came off the middle of the bat, and though Kohli managed to get a hand on the ball, he couldn’t hold on and it popped too far for him to get a second chance.
South Africa’s openers were never really at home – the leading edge or the ball that squared them up was never too far – but they went for their strokes and the runs came along briskly. Petersen played a gorgeous straight drive early on, and accumulated the bulk of his runs through whips towards midwicket. Smith, as usual, specialised in survival, besides muscling the ball frequently to the leg side.
It was only when the openers have been together for nearly two hours that Smith seemed to be getting fluent, and the openers put together their first 100-run stand in more than a year.
India desperately needed something to go their way, and it did. Smith has never been the nimblest runner between the wickets, and in 196 previous Test innings he had been run out only twice. Today, with his team still needing an enormous effort to save the game, he was caught short attempting a sharp, needless single. The throw from the mid-on fielder, Ajinkya Rahane, arrowed in on the base of the non-striker’s stump to catch Smith short. Perhaps Smith was convinced into going for the run as he played the shot from well outside his crease, but for a man who prides himself on his ability to thrive in high-pressure situations, this was a tame way to go.
When India won the Durban Test on their previous tour, the defining delivery was the one from Sreesanth that leapt at Kallis’ throat and led to his dismissal. If India do go on to complete a famous win tomorrow, the defining deliveries could well be the ones to dismiss Amla in each innings. Opponents will consider Amla getting bowled without offering a stroke once as a bonus, but twice in a match is a bonus of the size investment bankers dream of.
While Amla shouldering arms to a typical incoming Ishant Sharma delivery in the first innings was inexplicable, he was less culpable in the second innings. He saw Mohammed Shami drop it short and ducked, but the ball stayed low, so low that it crashed into the top of off. Amla had said after the first innings, “there are two types of leaves – a good leave and a bad leave.” You can’t classify this as a bad leave, but it cost Amla his wicket, and he trudged off after staring at where the ball bounced.
While there has been plenty of intensity right through this game, there was also time for MS Dhoni to bowl a couple of overs when the light was fading towards close, making this the first time both teams’ wicketkeepers have bowled in a Test.
India will hope they can take the remaining eight wickets tomorrow morning with the haste with which South Africa got them today. Pujara went on to his fourth 150-plus score of his short Test career before nicking behind off Kallis. Kohliclosing in on joining greats Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid as the only Indians to make a century in each innings of a Test. He couldn’t get there though, edging JP Duminy to the keeper on 96.
Dhoni holed out for a typically busy 29, but it wasn’t as action-packed as Zaheer Khan’s cameo – french cuts and wild heaves were mixed in with a couple of cleanly struck sixes, all of which had the Indian dressing room laughing gleefully. Zaheer’s hitting meant India added 37 for the final two wickets, and pushed the target beyond 450.
South Africa 244 and 138 for 2 (Petersen 76*) need another 320 runs to beat India 280 and 421 (Pujara 153, Kohli 96)