South Africa batsman Aiden Markam admitted that he was surprised by the impact India off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin had on day one of the second Test at Centurion. Ashwin took 3/90 from his 31 overs, dismissing Markram, Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock as India fought back to leave the hosts 269 for 6 at stumps.
With the pitch at Supersport Park normally providing plenty of pace and bounce, India had considered fielding all-pace bowling attack. But with opening bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami going wicketless, it was left to Ashwin to make the breakthroughs. The off-spinner's 31 overs were the most by an Indian spinner on the first day of a Test outside of Asia since 2001, when Harbhajan Singh managed 30 against South Africa at Port Elizabeth.
Ashwin bowled with great control, making the most of a brown wicket and Markram found facing him tough going in his innings of 94 from 150 balls.
"We didn’t expect there to be so much assistance for him," he said. "He was difficult to face, he is difficult to face on a flat wicket as well, so it did work out well for him I suppose. He still had to bowl well so you need to give him some credit. It will be interesting to see if the pitch will get harder and if it will continue to spin like it did, or if it spun like that because of the grass covering. We’ll see in the next couple of days."
Ashwin has taken 306 Test wickets at an average of 25 and is extremely valuable to his captain Virat Kohli, who watched on as the 31-year-old dismissed both South Africa openers to leave them 148 for 2. He then had the dangerous de Kock caught off his first ball, with Vernon Philander's run-out completing a collapse of three wickets of five runs.
"Ashwin is a world class bowler," Markram added. "He is always asking the right questions and he sets smart fields. It is not easy out there. I don't think he would have expected to bowl as much today judging on how last week went. They would have expected something similar."
South Africa suffer a mini collapse as they go from 246/3 to close on 269/6 as India fightback in the final session on Day 1, with the hosts losing three wickets for five runs, including two run outs.— ICC (@ICC) 13 January 2018
Scorecard: https://t.co/WB1xddEOLO #SAvIND #FreedomSeries pic.twitter.com/gXCfN1sObc
South Africa started the game brightly, with Markram and Dean Elgar (31) getting them off to a solid start before Hashim Amla (82) looked to be putting them in control. But Ashwin's impact, along with two run-outs by Hardik Pandya, provided India a late boost to leave the game in the balance.
"The game is pretty much even right now," Markram said. "I thought we showed good fight, winning the toss and batting first, especially after how last week played out. We would have liked not to have lost those clump of wickets at the end. It is a part of the game and we just got to nice and positive as a side and fight for every run tomorrow morning."
South Africa will resume on day two with Keshav Maharaj, 10*, and captain Faf du Plessis, 24*, at the crease and Markram is hoping his side can push on to post an imposing first-innings total.
"Anything above 350 would be good," he said. "We would like to push to 400. We’ve still got plenty of batting."