Durban: First session: 96 runs at 2.73 runs per over. Second session: 102 at 7.20. Third session: 73 at 1.91. The vastly varying scoring rates that Test cricket allows were on vivid display as the game meandered in the morning, before South Africa stepped on it post-lunch in search of a declaration, after which India’s batsmen put up a backs-to-the-wall display in the murky light at Kingsmead.
Despite the fluctuating run-rates, it was a day on which South Africa progressively increased their advantage, first taking a substantial lead and then prising out the Indian openers. India face a fight for survival on the final day of the series.
The morning was all about one man. Jacques Kallis slowly and steadily made his way to an emotional farewell century, his 45th in Test cricket, went past Rahul Dravid to become the third highest run-getter in Tests and gradually pushed India towards an unwinnable position.
The sentiments involved were clearly evident early in the day itself, when nightwatchman Dale Steyn hugged Kallis after a miscommunication over a single. No South African wanted to be remembered as the person responsible for causing Kallis to be dismissed in his final Test, especially not before he reached a century.
In that session, it seemed as if both teams were waiting for the other to make the play. South Africa weren’t playing with the intent of setting up a declaration, and India were content sitting back and limiting the runs with an increasingly ragged ball which was used for as long as 146 overs.
The bowling was almost entirely about one man too. Ravindra Jadeja bowled unchanged for half the day in a marathon 25-over spell as he provided the control India were searching for. Jadeja also finally broke the stubborn 86-run partnership between Kallis and Steyn by getting Kallis to top edge a slog sweep and complete his five-for.
As Kallis walked back, there were poignant scenes. The Sunday crowd saluted him with a standing ovation, the South African team greeted him with hugs outside the pavilion, and the captain Graeme Smith kissed him on his head.
There wasn’t too much initiative from South Africa even after that dismissal, but a short rain break after lunch shook things up. Robin Peterson and Faf du Plessis came out looking to play the big shots, and in the first three overs they plundered 29 runs – almost as many had been made in 16 overs leading to lunch.
India were clueless against the adventurous batsmen, and the flood of runs continued after the umpires finally forced a ball change midway through the session. Peterson galloped to a half-century off 44 balls, and the highlight of his innings was a stunning switch hit over the right-hander’s long-on for six. Du Plessis was marginally slower, playing more orthodox but equally eye-catching strokes – such as a gentle flick over mid-on off Mohammed Shami – and in little time the lead had ballooned past 150.
Peterson perished going for another big hit to end a partnership of 110 off 108 balls, and the rains returned to cut the session short, giving time for Smith to mull over whether it was time to declare. The decision was taken out of his hands when play resumed as Jadeja ran to his right and dived to secure Morne Morkel’s leading edge to take six for the match and end the innings.
That left India needing to bat out about two-and-a-half hours on the day. Steyn and Vernon Philander turned in a high-intensity spell with the new ball. Steyn harried the batsmen with the short ball but couldn’t get the breakthrough as he delivered 5-4-1-0. Philander had been ineffective in the first innings but had more impact this time as he set up Vijay perfectly – a series of short balls, followed by the fuller one which Vijay nicked through to slip after taking only half a step forward.
Shikhar Dhawan, who has had a mediocre tour so far, survived the initial examination, constantly urging himself to concentrate, and leaving as many deliveries as he could. Cheteshwar Pujara was struck on the armpit with a vicious bouncer early on but slowly he gained a measure of the pitch.
The light wasn’t great in the evening, but not so poor that they could come off with a significant chunk of the session still left to play. India would have wanted this on the first day when they were dominant, instead of today but Dhawan and Pujara were showing signs that they could make it through till stumps. That feeling grew as the umpires deemed that only spinners could bowl in the fading light.
Dhawan though went for a big hit off Robin Peterson, only to see du Plessis at short midwicket pull off one of the catches of the year with a one-handed leaping effort. India’s best batsmen, Pujara and Virat Kohli, were in the middle at stumps, and how long their partnership lasts could determine the course of the match tomorrow.