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Ashwin mastery turns Test India’s way

De Villiers sparkles for South Africa but Pujara, Vijay build home side's lead to 142 at stumps on Day 2

Ashwin mastery turns Test India’s way - Cricket News
Going into day two at the PCA Stadium, R Ashwin and AB de Villiers loomed as the principal protagonists, based both on recent form and storied pedigree. Which one of them stamped his authority, it was widely believed, would decide what course the first Test of four would take.
 
As it turned out, both the star Indian offspinner and the mercurial South African batsman came up with the goods. Ashwin picked up his fourth five-wicket haul in his last five Tests, de Villiers rode early luck and then batted the way only he can on his way to a sparkling half-century.
 
But where Ashwin benefited from a quality support cast, de Villiers was left waging a solitary battle following the dismissal of Hashim Amla. The depth of the Indian spin attack helped the host eke out a slender 17-run lead, on which the home team built handsomely to finish Friday’s (November 6) skirmishes much the stronger and well placed side, holding an overall advantage of 142 with eight wickets standing after reaching 125 for 2.
 
Not unaware that it would have to bat last on a tricky surface, South Africa’s first task when it resumed on 28 for 2 in response to India’s 201 was to eat steadily into the Indian total, and then build a lead of some proportion in the hope that the fewer runs there were to chase in the last innings, the more the visiting side's chances of going 1-0 up.
 
In the event, if South Africa managed no more than 184 despite de Villiers’s unsurprisingly attractive 63, it was down mainly to Ashwin’s mastery and guile. With Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra playing their parts, India’s spinners picked up all 10 wickets to fall in an innings for the first time since March 2013, when they accounted for all 20 wickets during the victory over Australia in Chennai, again in the first match of a four-Test series.
 
Shikhar Dhawan collected his second blob of the match, caught at second slip – again off Vernon Philander – in the first over as he drove loosely outside off, this time off the front foot, but M Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara knuckled down for the second time in as many days to keep South Africa’s bowlers at bay. The visiting side was hampered by the absence of Dale Steyn, who sat the entire length of the Indian second innings out with tightness in the groin, and while that wasn’t decisive, it meant Vijay and Pujara had one less headache to counter in what has effectively become a second-innings contest.
 
Pujara had his moments of uncertainty as the ball stayed down or came on slow enough to defeat sustained positive intent, but he didn’t allow the memory of the previous ball, or the prospect of what the next one carried, to cloud his judgement. Vijay, by contrast, was both fluent and attractive, in as complete command of the situation as the conditions allowed until he was spectacularly caught at short-leg by a diving Temba Bavuma, the substitute fielder, off an Imran Tahir googly that flew away off the inside-edge and the pad.
 
It wasn’t as if the pitch had changed character dramatically and panned out into a batting beauty, but Vijay and Pujara reiterated that if you had the stomach for battle and the game to back it up, run-scoring was far from impossible.


 
As indeed had Dean Elgar and Amla in the morning when South Africa embraced positivity in a bid to shed the shackles brought on by the overnight tally of 28 for 2 in 20 overs. Having seen off a demanding final session, it was always on the cards that South Africa wouldn’t be as dormant or dead-batted as the previous evening. Elgar set the tone with a slog-swept boundary off Mishra in the day’s first over, and the South African pair must have been further elated when Virat Kohli turned to first Umesh Yadav and then Varun Aaron in a bid to cash in on reverse swing before finally turning to his strike bowler.
 
With the roller having settled the surface somewhat, India might have been better off opting for control early on through Ashwin and Jadeja, and then going for the kill beyond a tight, choking first hour. Instead, Ashwin wasn’t introduced until the eighth over of the day. He didn’t strike paydirt immediately, but he did make things happen. All of a sudden, the threat perception first doubled, then trebled as he fell into customary excellent rhythm. Elgar never looked at ease but soldiered on, while Amla seemed to have rediscovered fluency when Ashwin arrived with his bag of tricks, and forced the batsmen to revisit their approach.
 
South Africa had amassed 49 runs in 15 overs in the first hour when Ashwin provided India with the breakthrough, forcing Elgar to skew a top-edge off an attempted slog-sweep that hovered in the air and then descended into Jadeja’s hands at point. A solid stand of 76 had been terminated, but with Elgar’s dismissal ushering in de Villiers, the game had reached a flashpoint.
 
De Villiers’s presence seemed to fire Ashwin up, and he put in a marvellous exhibition of offspin bowling that not even the virtuoso could lay bat to. De Villiers looked like he could get out any ball, and Ashwin was clearly up for the challenge and hoping to capitalise on his immense past success against the batsman. As generally happens in such cases, it wasn’t Ashwin who tasted success; instead, Jadeja got one to spin across the batsman and catch his outside edge, Kohli completing the catch at second slip off Wriddhiman Saha’s gloves.


 
The big fish snared, India was celebrating but Kumar Dharmasena went upstairs to check for a no-ball. It took Vineet Kulkarni numerous replays spread over four minutes to confirm that, and arrive at the correct conclusion that it was an illegal delivery as de Villiers, then seven out of 104 for 3, enjoyed a reprieve.
 
South Africa’s delight at the let-off was temporary when Ashwin got rid of Amla, stumped off Saha’s chest, and Dane Vilas on the sweep in the next over. As if that was the cue he needed, de Villiers turned on the magic, traversing from uncertain survivor to wondrous ball-striker in the blink of an eye.
 
Aware that the turning ball and the quality of the Indian spinners would be too hot to handle for the lower order, de Villiers launched into a succession of audacious strokes – reverse sweeps, slog-sweeps, back-cuts and one sensational drive over cover off Jadeja as he left his crease and went inside out. It was exhilarating stuff, but de Villiers was running out of partners as India almost seemed to stop trying to get him out and focussed solely on the batsman at the other end.
 
Mishra finally got one to drift in and break away, getting past the outside edge of de Villiers’s bat and rattling timber, before Ashwin came back to complete his five-for and to go 150 wickets in his 29th Test, the fastest Indian to achieve that feat. That opened the game up for India, and the batsmen then responded with courage and conviction to help the host nose ahead.

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