SA vs IND | 2nd Test, Day 2: Shardul rules the show as tricky pitch keeps batsmen, game on the edge

Mayank Kumar

Mayank Kumar

Author| Jan 4, 5:20 PM

Image: Twitter
Image: Twitter

Around this time last year, when Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari had resisted the Australian bowling attack to secure India a historic draw in Sydney, he had pinpointed his side’s ability to respond in “adversity”.

Almost a year to that day, the second day of the second Test against South Africa ratified what Ashwin wanted to assert as India found a way back once again from situations where the hosts appeared to be taking off to achieve an indomitable position.

They lost their skipper right before the big game that could go on to be a historic one for the side if they end up winning it and lost the heart and zip of one of the vital cogs of the bowling attack in Mohammad Siraj late on the second day.

Coming into the second day, they had to breach the defence of Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen, who showed perfect memory as top-order batsmen to forget misbehaving deliveries and impeccable temperament to treat every delivery on its merit.

The first hour did not go their way in the same fashion the last hour of the second day did not work for them albeit Mohammad Shami bowled unplayable deliveries one after another to both batsmen. He bowled such immaculate lengths and line to both batsmen that if he would have run through the South African batting line up in the moring spell, no one would have pointed fingers at the batsmen.

However, that’s not how the game of cricket goes and India were made to work hard through another mode of attack and while Siraj showed heart by bowling with a shortened run-up, they were definitely falling short. 

KL Rahul was reluctant to use Shardul Thakur that he first went to Ashwin before going to him with the ball and the former’s weakness of giving away boundary balls must have influenced that decision as India did not have the leverage of too many runs to play with.

However, as Shami was unlucky to not get wickets in the cluster despite bowling tremendously, India reaped the rewards. Shardul caught the elusive edge of Elgar’s bat to end his marathon resistance. Rassie van der Dussen never looked convincing and was found in no man’s land against a delivery that bounced awkwardly from the good length area.

Keegan Petersen looked the most fluent batsman in the morning session and hit some crisp boundaries off Shami to rub salt to his wounds. However, his concentration and ability to pick perfect balls to play drives worked well only till he reached his maiden fifty. He appeared too eager to drive the ball towards the off side and Shardul produced a perfect outswinger to draw him into a cover drive and Mayank Agarwal was delighted to send Petersen back.

India were back in the game before the lunch interval but the threat of Temba Bavuma persisted for them in the afternoon session. A new kid on the block, Kylee Verreynee, who clearly looked out of sorts and shape at the crease, found some streaky boundaries to get South Africa going.

Both put the Indian bowling attack under some pressure before Shardul trapped the wicketkeeper-batsman rooted to the crease and in front of the stumps.

Bavuma was aggressive at the other end and he could well have assessed that Indian bowlers would eventually bowl a delivery that would have his name on it and hence he tried to maximise his presence at the crease. He played some eye-catching strokes to reach the second fifty of the series in as many games. However, just as Petersen did in the morning session, he unnecessarily tried to step down the track to Shardul Thakur and now a veteran of T20 cricket, he was aware of the change at the other end to shorten the length. The ball caught the glove of Bavuma and Rishabh Pant dived acrobatically to take a stunner to end South Africa’s hopes of batting India out of the game.

Keshav Maharaj and Marco Janse tried their best to frustrate India and make life difficult for them in the second innings but they could not manage a lead beyond 27 runs, which the opening pair of KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal nullified in a matter of few overs against the new ball.

Both Kagiso Rabada and Duanne Olivier were guilty of being inconsistent once again with the new ball and they offered scoring opportunities in between unplayable deliveries to let the Indian openers breathe a little easy.

Marco Jansen came into the attack and drew the edge of Rahul and Aiden Markram took a low and contentious catch that ignited the fire between the sides for the first time in the series. 

Mayank Agarwal was looking fluent and appeared positive in his approach to take full advantage of half volleys Proteas pacers had to offer him in search of his nick. However, he went down in a meek fashion while shouldering arms to a back of length delivery from Olivier that cut back off the seam towards him. 

With the dismissal of both Mayank and Rahul, who have been the cornerstone of India’s batting so far in the series, the responsibility of rescuing India and maintaining the flow of runs to chip away at the deficit fell on the old but struggling shoulders of Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. 

They did not have to battle the fire from the pacers on the pitch but they must have been batting many battles in their heads with swords hanging over their places due to a string of low scores and poor execution in the first innings.

To their credit though, both of them batted with fluency and panache to hit some aggressive shots. Pujara, in particular, was more aggressive of the two and he was daring to drive fullish length deliveries to four even in the last few minutes of the day. He finished the day unbeaten on a 42-ball 35 which is rarest of the rare occasion in the world of cricket and India will bank on both of them to come good with the bat and vindicate the team management’s decision to keep on relying on them to do the hard yards with the bat.


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