South Africa in the driver's seat despite Pandya's heroics

[caption id="attachment_61166" align="aligncenter" width="580"]DS23GLlUQAAeQHy (1) Pandya played a brilliant knock of 93 runs. Image Source: BCCI[/caption]

Internet Desk: India's star all-rounder Hardik Pandya played a blistering knock of 93 runs to help his side to reach a respectable total of 209 in reply to South Africa's 286 in the first innings at the Newlands cricket stadium in Cape Town today.

In reply, the hosts were at 65 for the loss of two wickets and they have a handy lead of 142 runs with eight wickets still in hand. Hashim Amla (4) and Kagiso Rabada (2) were at the crease at the end of second day's play.

Earlier on day 2, despite Pandya’s defiance, and a 99-run stand with the gutsy Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India were bowled out for 209, a deficit of 77, with Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada taking three wickets apiece. By stumps, on a pitch that had eased up considerably, South Africa had stretched their lead to 142 for the loss of two wickets, with Hashim Amla on 4 and Rabada, sent in as nightwatchman, on 2.

Dean Elgar, who made a first-innings duck, was nearly out to the first ball he faced, but a top-edged pull just evaded the fingertips of Mohammed Shami, who ran across from mid-on to try and take the catch. India bowled tidily enough, but with Aiden Markram punctuating periods of watchfulness with some gorgeous drives, the lead grew steadily.

Almost inevitably, it was Pandya that produced the breakthrough, as Markram (34) miscued a pull to backward point, where Bhuvneshwar took the catch. With more than 20 minutes to stumps, South Africa surprisingly sent in Rabada as nightwatchman, prompting Virat Kohli to immediately call on Ravichandran Ashwin’s off-spin.

In Pandya’s very next over, he gave India another lifeline, as Elgar, who made 25, chased one outside off stump and edged to Wriddhiman Saha. But Amla and Rabada made sure that there would be no further incident in what was another engrossing day.

The middle session had showcased cricket at its very best, with the home pace attack breathing fire, and Pandya responding with some dragon-slaying shots. When he was bounced, he would pull or ramp the ball over the keeper and slips. On one occasion, he even had the audacity to step away and smash one over the covers.

There were gorgeous orthodox strokes too, threaded through the covers and mid-wicket, while Keshav Maharaj found himself walloped over wide long-on for six. And all this after India had made the worst possible start after lunch.

Cheteshwar Pujara, who had shown commendable patience and seen off 91 balls for his 26, flirted with a wide one from Philander and edged to second slip. Ashwin, who made 12, followed in nearly identical fashion, though this time the catch was taken by Quinton de Kock behind the stumps.

When Saha padded up to Dale Steyn, just as he had on debut in Nagpur seven years earlier, India had lost three wickets for 16 runs, with the morning’s hard graft rendered superfluous. But Pandya, beaten by a couple of scorchers from Steyn early on, wasn’t about to hang around. With Bhuvneshwar offering stout, scoreless, defence at the other end, he unleashed a flurry of shots. One, when on 15, flew to Elgar at gully, but he couldn’t hang on.

As he continued to pound out the strokes, Proteas captain Faf du Plessis moved the field further and further back, but Pandya kept going at better than a run a ball. To add to South Africa’s frustration, de Kock missed a straightforward stumping as Pandya, then 71, gave Maharaj the charge. By tea, the arrears had been whittled down to 101, and Steyn had gone off midway through his 18th over for treatment and a scan on his heel.

The morning session had been altogether more sedate, with India scoring just 48 in 25 overs for the loss of Rohit Sharma. They didn’t score a run till the fifth over of the day, and Philander started off with five straight maidens. Defend. Play and miss. Defend. Leave. Rinse. Repeat. But somehow, Pujara and Rohit survived Steyn and Philander, only to then be confronted by the steepling bounce from Morkel, and Rabada, who was – to borrow from Graeme Smith, the former South African captain, on commentary – "bowling rockets".

One such howitzer eventually broke the partnership, with Rohit struck on the pad in front of middle stump. He reviewed in vain, and walked off with 11 to his name from 59 balls. Ashwin was greeted by a lifter that jarred his index finger, but India went to lunch cautiously happy on 76/4. What followed was a whole lot more eventful.

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