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India holds upper hand after 20-wicket day

Chasing 310, South Africa slips to 32 for 2 on day two of third Test, after being bowled out for 79 in first innings

India holds upper hand after 20-wicket day - Cricket News
R Ashwin used natural variations to such good effect that he only had to fall back on his own variety when a specific plan called for it.

The second day of the third Test match began with Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar at the crease, with South Africa on 11 for 2. When the players walked off the field, 90 overs later, it was Amla and Elgar in harness and South Africa 32 for 2. Before you think you’re suffering the effect of some powerful hallucinogens, look closer at the scorecard and you will find that a staggering 20 wickets fell between the two events.

On a pitch that continued to be in focus despite players from both sides doing their best to keep the attention on bat and ball, South Africa was reduced to 12 for 5 and shot out for only 79, its lowest score against India, shading the time it was bowled out for 84 in Johannesburg.

India’s response was robust for a time, but the inevitable collapse was triggered and it had to settle for 173, which gave the home side a lead of 309, setting South Africa a target that has never been successfully chased by a team visiting India.

Test cricket in India is so often about mountains of runs that the manner in which the spinners could pillage wickets, driving batsmen stir crazy by getting the ball to do different things despite landing in exactly the same spot, having been delivered at the same pace, was at once disconcerting and gripping..

R Ashwin was a master at this, using natural variations to such good effect that he only had to fall back on his own variety when a specific plan called for it. Ashwin began the procession of batsmen from the dressing-room to the middle and back when Elgar looked to cut and dragged the ball back on. Hashim Amla went when a big sweep off Ashwin came a touch too early as the ball stopped off the pitch and lobbed to slip via arm, back of bat and the wicketkeeper’s  shoulder.

If Amla made 1, the other batting pillar of the team, AB de Villiers, completed the binary code, popping a return catch to Ravindra Jadeja, who was just beginning the process of catching up with his senior spinning partner.

If there was a sliver of hope, it came from JP Duminy, who used his feet well to the spinners and drove the ball in the vee, only resorting to cross-batted shots when he got a rank bad ball. And there weren’t too many of those on offer. Duminy (35) however, was singular in approach and success and wickets fell consistently at the other end. Amit Mishra disturbed the symmetry of the bowling card, picking up Duminy, but the other spinners once again returned dream figures. Jadeja, with 4 for 33, was overshadowed, not merely statistically but in pure beauty of bowling by Ashwin, who had figures of 16.1-6-32-5.

When India started its second dig, it was with a lead of 136, and even the fall of M Vijay early did not cause too many jitters. Shikhar Dhawan, looking to be positive, did his best not to think about the pitch or what it was doing, playing his shots with confidence. For a time it appeared as though India was batting on a different surface to the one South Africa had collapsed on, one 10-over block yielding 61 runs for the fall of only one wicket. Dhawan (39) and Pujara (31) appeared to calm the nerves, and at 97 for 2 India’s batsmen were doing a fine job of debunking the claim that this pitch was diabolical. But, before that thought could congeal fully, Imran Tahir made his presence felt. South Africa chose not to press its main spinner into action until 24 overs had been bowled and India’s lead was already 218. When he did get the ball in hand, though, Tahir was successful. A reverse sweep (Shikhar Dhawan), a hole out to the deep trying to hit a six (Virat Kohli) and a wide half-volley being squeezed to point (Ajinkya Rahane) set the ball rolling. Tahir nailed the final Indian wicket on 173 to end with 5 for 38.

South Africa, looking at what might seem to be an impossibly distant target of 310, was two down in quick time, Ashwin snapping up Stiaan van Zyl for the fifth time in as many attempts in this series. The sense of déjà vu was overwhelming when Tahir was sent out once more as nightwatchman, the move having failed only 24 hours. South Africa was not second time lucky as Tahir was caught in front of the stumps by Mishra. And then, like some strange illusion, the day ended as it had began, Amla and Elgar doing their bit to resist the Indians. The pair saw off 2.5 overs together, but they will know that there are 270 more of those to come, although clearly not that many will be needed before this game is decided.

Click here to view the full scorecard. 

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