Day 2 of the Delhi Test saw as many as 13 wickets, 10 South Africa first innings’, fall, putting India in the ascendancy in the final Test of the Freedom Trophy. The home side bowled South Africa out for 121, their second-lowest total in the 4-match Test series, after posting 334 in their first innings. Ajinkya Rahane made his first Test century (127) in India and forged a 98-run stand with Ravichandran Ashwin, who himself scored a crucial half-century (56), for the 8th wicket. At one stage on day 1, India were in a huge spot of bother at 7/198 with Rahane in the middle and needing someone to support him. And his partnership with Ashwin helped India wrest control of the game from the Proteas.
Despite the pitch being largely benign from a batting perspective, most South African batsmen struggled to redeem themselves from their poor displays in the first three Tests. Yes, the Indian bowling quartet did bowl well and deserve credit for making things harder for the visitors. But too many batsmen from the visitors’ camp, got out playing anomalous and uncharacteristic shots that have dictated their fate in the Test series throughout.
South Africa have conceded India a lead of 213 with yet another poor batting performance. The hosts have not enforced the follow-on and will come out to bat today. Is there a possibility for India to wrap things up inside three days, just as they did in Mohali and Nagpur, where Hashim Amla’s side batted last as well?
Team India were quite slow to get going in the first innings, accumulating a mere 60 runs in the first session. Shikhar Dhawan, who has been woefully out of form with the bat, took his time to settle in, giving the first hour to the South African bowlers and playing within himself. Having got off to a start and spent time in the middle, Dhawan could not keep going and was dismissed for 33 by Dane Piedt. I emphasize on Dhawan’s knock and the way he constructed his innings because the southpaw, with a Test career strike-rate well in excess of 63, is one of the stroke-makers in the Indian top-order and can score at a good clip even in the longest format of the game.
The likes of Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara are more of grafters who like to smother the bowling and do not really go after the same. With a lead of 213 at the start of their second innings, India are probably a session-and-a-half away from surpassing the 350-run mark that, you think, is the minimum Kohli would be looking for when India commence their second innings today. If India are to manage an overall lead of at least 350 in one-and-a-half sessions, Dhawan holds the key, from India’s perspective.
Secondly, the wicket is a good one to bat on and the Indian batsmen should enjoy batting on it. Though it is safe to play in the ‘v’ with the odd ball keeping low, accumulating quick runs is a possibility. Having said that, with India not scheduled to play in another Test series in the near future, the likes of Vijay and Pujara would want to make the chance count and get a big score under their belts. No batsman has had it easy in this series dominated by the bowlers – spinners, more precisely – and hence would not want to throw their wickets away, especially with 3 days of play left in the match.
South Africa’s dismal batting performances in this series and mental fragility against the Indian spinners could make another 3-day finish possible, still. AB de Villiers looks like the only South African batsman who can resist the threat of the Indian spinners. Even the likes of Amla and Faf du Plessis, who you generally see as solid and reliable batsmen, have disappointed massively in this series and contributed to the position their side finds itself in.
Anything is possible since wickets have fallen in double digits on each day of this Test series, with day 1 of the Delhi Test being the exception. But with the pitch playing no major tricks and India in a really commanding position in the Test match, they would not want to give the Proteas an inch. Also, with time not being a factor, the Indian batsmen would just look at facing every ball as it comes and let things take care of themselves.