Research scholars the world over have penned thesis on the stimulating effects of tea, but can one of them tell us what panned out at the Wanderers on Thursday?
Going into the final session of the second day’s play, South Africa were clearly in front. With 118 on the board and nine wickets in tact, getting to and beyond India’s 280 wouldn’t have taken much doing. But just then, the pacers produced a jaw-dropping spell of reverse-swing bowling to bring India right back into the contest. In the space of 6.2 overs, the visitors, led by Ishant Sharma, brought the hosts down to earth and nearly buried them with returns of 5/16.
At 146/6 and no established batsman to follow, a 100-plus lead was no longer a dream. But Vernon Philander and Faf du Plessis, two players on whom the tag of all-rounder doesn’t seem out of place, put up an act of defiance with an unbeaten 67-run stand for the seventh wicket. And, after 79 overs of riveting cricket, South Africa went into stumps at 213/6, still 67 in the red. Seven out of 10 people would tell you that the day belonged to India.
Johannesburg received gallons of rain on Wednesday night, but thanks to the state-of-the-art drainage system at ‘The Bullring’, not a minute was lost. On an overcast morning, it was Philander who snuffed out three of India’s last five wickets, ensuring the visitors added no more than 25 runs to their overnight score of 255.
South Africa recovered from the loss of Alviro Petersen, to Sharma, in the 14th over. Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla looked scratchy and solid in equal measure against a probing Indian attack. A peach of a delivery from Sharma brought an end to Amla’s 36-run effort and the 93-run stand.
Jacques Kallis, for whom this series could well be the last of a glittering career, fell for a first-ball duck. Three for 130 became four for 130 when Zaheer Khan joined the party by claiming his bunny, Smith, for the seventh time in 10 Tests. Dropped in the cordon by R Ashwin on 19, Smith went on to make a gritty 68 with 11 boundaries before getting out leg-before to a ball that tailed him.
With reverse swing on offer, how could Mohammed Shami be left behind? The Bengal pacer, who had strutted his stuff and skill against the West Indies at home, claimed JP Duminy and AB de Villiers in the same over to leave South Africa tottering.
Philander and du Plessis then displayed the kind of resilience Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane had on Day One, putting India on the back-foot with some patient batting. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Dhoni over-bowled Sharma –– he bowled nearly a third of the 66 overs, most of them in the final session –– before allowing the pair to feast on Ashwin. Rohit Sharma was the other culprit in the slips, the Mumbaikar dropping a sitter on 17 in the fag end of the day. At seven-down, India would have had a look at the tail. They can do that on the morrow too.