India wipes out South African tail early to reach 284 for 2 by close of play on third day
At the Wanderers in Johannesburg on a sunny Friday (December 20), Indian cricket broke from the past and ushered in a bright new dawn. Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli showed that the future of Indian batting was as safe as it has ever been, defanging a South African bowling attack to take India to 284 for 2, a lead of 320 with two days to play in the Test.
When Dale Steyn, distinctly below his best for the majority of a long day on the field, steamed in and managed to get it right, Pujara presented the broadest of blades with the softest of touches, taking the sting out of a 145 kmh delivery, the ball falling harmlessly to the batsman’s feet.
When Pujara came to the crease, India had lost Shikhar Dhawan early, when Vernon Philander, in the middle of a high quality spell, induced the outside edge to become the fastest South African to 100 Test wickets. It was the only moment of joy on the day for the home team. Pujara began as he always does, blocking, coaxing, nudging, pushing, steering but always building. While the scoreboard did not appear to be moving particularly quickly – Pujara took 127 balls to get to 50 – the game was being taken forward rather rapidly.
South Africa was severely set back shortly before the lunch interval when Morne Morkel, fielding in the deep, turned his ankle and hobbled off in severe pain only for a scan to reveal a Grade 1 tear that put him out of action for seven to ten days. A bowler short, South Africa turned to Jacques Kallis to shoulder the extra workload, but once M Vijay had seen off Philander’s initial spell, batting became, or was made to look, significantly easier.
Vijay (39) was extremely unlucky to be caught down the leg side looking to flick Kallis, but he had done his job, setting a platform up by staying at the crease till the 34th over of the innings.
With Pujara and Kohli at the crease, South Africa fast ran out of options. Just before tea, Graeme Smith revealed how little confidence he had in his lead spinner, bringing AB de Villiers on to bowl an over of seam up while Hashim Amla took the big gloves. That, more than anything else, showed the kind of mastery India’s batsmen had established over the bowling attack.
Kohli began from where he left off in the course of his first-innings 119, and struck six crisp boundaries on the way to a 74-ball half-century. Just when it appeared that Kohli would break away from Pujara, the master innings-builder set to work. Pujara not only managed to keep a lion’s share of the strike against a flagging attack, he put away the loose balls mercilessly, using up only 41 balls in going from 50 to his sixth Test hundred. Pujara has scored bigger tons – 206*, 204 and 159 – but this unfinished work was easily his most significant. Pujara ended the day unbeaten on 134, and Kohli had motored to 77, the unbroken 191-run third-wicket stand swelling India’s total to 284 and the lead to a handsome 320.
Such was the power of these batsmen that the good work put in by the bowlers early on Day 3 seemed like a distant dream. The match was still very much in the balance when South Africa resumed on 213 for 6, but the tireless Zaheer Khan picked up three snappy wickets to take his overall Test tally to 299, restricting South Africa to 244, giving India a first-innings lead of 36.