South Africa 286 and 65 for 2 (Amla 4*, Rabada 2*, Pandya 2-17) lead India 209 (Pandya 93, Philander 3-33, Rabada 3-34) by 142 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details (Viewers in the Indian subcontinent can watch highlights of the Test here)
In their first innings of a season in which they’ll be living out of their briefcases, India realised they forgot to pack something rather important. The middle of the bat. They were 92 for 7 and the Newlands Test began to look like another one in a long line of dismal performances away from home.
Two months ago, when Hardik Pandya was rested from the Test team, he spoke about playing in South Africa in this way. “I might be the difference, let’s see.” Living up to his own lofty billing, the 24-year old allrounder defied a fearsome fast-bowling attack to make 93 off 95 balls. South Africa did eventually secure a lead of 77 runs, bowling India out for 209, but it might have come at a sizeable cost. With three overs to tea, Dale Steyn injured his left heel and there are concerns that he may he out of the series.
Cape Town, as it did on the first day, continued spoiling cricket fans rotten. Vernon Philander began the day with five successive maidens. Kagiso Rabada was just plain mean. Morne Morkel seemed to be pushing through his action better; the snap of his wrist had been more palpable and those awkwardly rising deliveries came with greater frequency. Steyn, while fit, calmly moved to 418 Test wickets, three away from the national record.
Can you spot a weak link in there? Given helpful conditions, each of them can be a spearhead. They also pose different questions to a batsman, are incredibly accurate, and hate giving away runs. All of that meant India had not a moment of respite. They made only 29 in the first 18 overs – the point when they lost their first wicket of the day. Back then, the plan was to survive. Invest time in the middle as the surface flattens out and hope to have wickets in hand when the bowlers start to tire.
And they did. They also got frustrated because Pandya wasn’t trussing himself up and presenting his wicket to them. As audacious as the shots he played were – upper cuts to a 145 kph bouncer, a flat-batted biff over extra cover to get to his fifty and a still-headed down-the-track flick through midwicket – he was also thoughtful. Once, when he was beaten while playing a cut shot – he’s very good at that – he queried his partner Bhuvneshwar Kumar whether his execution was off or if the ball had kept low. The exchange of information continued all the way through their 99-run stand for the eighth wicket.
Pandya made runs all around the dial. Crucially, he threw South Africa off their plans. They began bowling around the wicket, targeting his body. That left lbw in the bin. He walked at Philander first ball, giving a bowler who relies exceedingly on lateral movement something more to think about than the outside edge. That his strokeplay is eye-catching is no surprise. But his ease in countering a quality bowling line-up in Test cricket certainly was. India may have finally found a bankable seam-bowling allrounder, the discovery taking place while their greatest ever was celebrating his 59th birthday.
South Africa could, of course, have saved themselves some irritation if Dean Elgar had held on to a sharp catch at gully when Pandya was only 15. Prior to that, he overturned Richard Kettleborough’s verdict of caught behind with the help of a review. Steyn was the aggrieved bowler on both occasions, and his day only got worse when he hobbled off the field.
The loss of a bowling leader often derails campaigns. But as in Perth 2016, Rabada stepped up. His third ball of the day was clocked at 146 kph. It beat the splice of the bat on its way to the wicketkeeper. In light of that, there may be sense in playing him off the back foot. But, he is just as adept as pitching the ball up, and has sensational speed through the air. Rohit Sharma found that out the hard way when he was late to bring the bat down and was out lbw.
Rabada’s next wicket was Pandya – right after he nailed the batsman in the gut – and he was rewarded with a kiss on the forehead from captain Faf du Plessis. The 22-year old is every bit in the mold of his mentor. He was disgruntled that he was used for only seven overs early on. He indulged in angry screams after taking a wicket. He made batsmen hop. He greeted the opposition’s premier spinner with a short ball aimed at the heart. Best of all, when Chesteshwar Pujara played a rare drive through the covers and trotted across for a single, he told the batsman “you hit that so hard, and it didn’t even go off the square.” It had all the hallmarks of a Steyn sledge – the man did memorably respond to Rohit’s call of “come to India, let’s see what happens” with “I have more runs than you do this series” in 2013-14.
Pandya’s day was not quite done yet. He came on second-change for India and dismissed both of South Africa’s openers but their lead is already at 142 and the Test remains in their control.