March 2018
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Three late wickets give India lift on day of toil
(New Delhi, Jan 13, 2018):South Africa lost their first wicket in the 30th over, their second in the 48th and their third in the 63rd and partnerships of 85, 63 and 51 underlined how infrequently India's bowlers struck in the first two sessions of play on day one of the second Test at Centurion. But then, during the last half hour, India removed three batsmen in the span of 14 deliveries, one of them being the mighty Hashim Amla for 82.

Those strikes went a long way in turning a day of toil into a position of parity for India, and lifted their mood after two sessions of largely ineffective bowling barring R Ashwin's two wickets. At stumps on Saturday, South Africa were 269/6 with skipper Faf du Plessis (24*) the last specialist batsman.

It was a stunning end for a day in which India underwhelmed for more than two sessions. Amla, who before this Test averaged 24.43 versus India at home, was given lives on 14 and 30 and used those to move to 82 before a brilliant pick-and-throw from Hardik Pandya ran him out. Two balls later, Quinton de Kock edged his first ball to slip, giving Ashwin his third wicket. Moments later, Parthiv Patel ran out Vernon Philander. After going wicketless in the morning session, and with Amla being dropped twice, India need such moments to spike their day at SuperSport Park.

All told, each session got better for India. The opener Aiden Markram was a thorn in their side from the time South Africa opted to bat, as he and Dean Elgar played out the first hour and then cashed in on a period of wayward bowling to take the score to 78/1 at lunch. It did not take long for them to feel the absence of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who was dropped for Ishant Sharma (Shikhar Dhawan and Wriddhiman Saha, out with a hamstring niggle, were the others to make way for KL Rahul and Parthiv).

Jasprit Bumrah, in his second Test, was elevated to new-ball bowler and failed to impress, bleeding 18 runs in his second spell of two overs. Mohammed Shami was well off his lines and decidedly unthreatening, while Ishant was the most frugal with a first spell of 6-1-6-0.

While Elgar was slow to open up - his first boundary came in the 19th over - Markram put away the bad balls, of which there were several. An opportunity presented itself when Elgar top-edged Bumrah out to deep square leg, where Murali Vijay misjudged the catch completely and over-ran the ball, which went for four. During this period, Markram collected five boundaries off Bumrah in the span of nine balls faced from him, with two drives and an imperious pick-up flick off a stray ball on the pads the highlights. Just before lunch, Markram drove and pulled Pandya for consecutive fours and the next ball scampered a single to take him to 50.

India used a review for a caught-behind appeal when Ashwin turned one delivery sharply past Elgar's forward prod, but replays showed there was no thin edge. As it turned out, it took a sharp catch from Vijay at silly point to end an opening stand of 85 in 29.3 overs. Ashwin had been creating problems for Elgar with his changes of speed and the bounce he was getting, and a mad dash down the track resulted in a mistimed shot into Vijay's midriff which he held onto after a juggle. Not long after, Ashwin produced a second opportunity, but a leaping Pandya at short midwicket could not hold onto the catch with his outstretched left hand. That was Amla's first life. In that over, Kohli could be heard asking his fielders for more.

Unperturbed, Markram continued to defend solidly and whip boundaries out of nowhere. A short ball from Ashwin was clattered off the back foot through cover, and Shami was slapped past point. A third boundary in as many overs, when Ashwin dropped short again, took Markram into the nineties.

There was to be no century. On 94, Markram pushed at Ashwin with a loose bat and was caught behind by Parthiv. It took a referral for the verdict to come, and when it did the Indian team was jubilant.

On 30, Amla got a tickle down the pads off Ishant but a diving Parthiv failed to hold on. Not long after, four balls into a new spell, Ishant was lucky to pick up AB de Villiers for 20 when the batsman bottom-edged an attempted steer to third man onto his stumps. Then came the wickets of Amla, de Kock and Philander, which turned the complexion of the final session.

Ashwin bowled the most overs (31), and had three wickets to show for his hard work. Ishant had figures of 16-3-32-1. The letdowns were Bumrah (0/57 in 18 overs) and Shami (46 in 11 overs). Still, having South Africa six down for 269 can be seen as a job well done, despite the drops and some wayward pace bowling.

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