Spinners hope to exploit cracks
Ravindra Jadeja has always been fervent in his appeals, and his enthusiasm often gets the better of him while taking a DRS call, many of which have led to wasted chances in the past. Saturday was different.
With a target of 395, South Africa’s first innings centurion Dean Elgar had started cautiously. He knew Virat Kohli would let loose his spinners on the Proteas after the hosts had declared on 323/4. Yet there was little he could do when, in the fourth over, a Jadeja delivery stayed low and skidded onto his pads. The umpire believed it had brushed off the bat before hitting the pads, but Jadeja was convinced otherwise. Kohli took a long time to agree with the spinner to go for a review, but when he did, it ended in cheers.
And just like that India had scalped South Africa’s top-scorer in the first innings to leave a dent in their hope of saving the match. At 11/1 at stumps on Day 4, the Proteas need 384 more to win, and a day of gritty spin bowling to look forward to on a pitch where the ball is staying erratically low.
For India, it was the perfect end to a day when they saw their newly promoted opener Rohit Sharma (127, 149 balls) score his second ton of the match and No. 3 Cheteshwar Pujara (81, 148 balls) shifting gears at the right moment to take the hosts to a commanding position.
“I think there is enough rough for the spinners and the cracks will open up bit more on Day 5,” Pujara said at the end of the day’s play.
“The cracks will help the fast bowlers and we have seen that the pitch has got variable bounce. Like the variable bounce for Jaddu in that delivery against Elgar, I think the ball hit the crack and kept a little low. So if there is variable bounce I think the spinners will enjoy hitting the ball on the cracks.”
The day started with the last three South African batsmen batting for close to an hour. They put on 46 and reduced India’s lead to 71 runs. With a possibility of rain and a SA batting that fought doggedly in first innings, the Indian team management knew that they had to give their bowlers the maximum time to pick 10 wickets.
So, Sharma started with the right intent from the word go and hit seven sixes en route to the three-figure mark. But at the other end, while Mayank Agarwal fell cheaply off Keshav Maharaj, No. 3 Pujara took a long time to settle. He scored his first runs off the 20th ball and by the 62nd ball had only put on 8 runs.
It is typical of Pujara to take his time to get into rhythm but the need of the hour was different. A message from the dressing room post lunch did wonders. Kuldeep Yadav ran in and seemed to tell him about the captain’s instruction to charge the bowlers.
Suddenly Pujara was in a different avatar. If Sharma preferred the aerial route, Pujara was all about finding the gaps. After a rather off-colour tour of the West Indies, this was the innings that Pujara needed to come into his own. From 8 off 62 balls, he reached 50 off 106 balls. At one point he matched Sharma’s pace.
Pujara’s was not a chanceless knock though as he was dropped twice off Piedt—first by Aiden Markram at short leg and then by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
The hosts were not complaining. From 35/1 at lunch, the duo added 140 runs in the second session and India’s lead swelled.