India vs South Africa | Talking points from Day 1 of Centurion Test

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India vs South Africa | Talking points from Day 1 of Centurion Test

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Bastab K Parida


India made a comeback in the later phase of the day to share the honours of the Day 1 of the second Test against South Africa in Centurion. While the wicket was supposed to be a pace-friendly one, Ravi Ashwin, surprisingly, had all the fun and picked up three wickets in the process.

Brief Scores: South Africa 269/6 at Stumps (Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82; Ravichandran Ashwin 3-90) vs India.

Centurion wicket behaves completely opposite

Teams have always struggled to counter Highveld’s pace and bounce and that is a big reason why Centurion has always been as considered as South Africa's answer to the Gabbatoir or what Kensington Oval in Barbados once was for the West Indies. At Centurion, the hosts have an eye-catching 17-2 win-loss record in Tests and an Asian team is yet to win a single game at the venue. 

However, a "browner than usual" Centurion surface without any visible sideways movement made sure that the hosts had a near-perfect start to their innings. The conditions demanded discipline from the quicks, and in the first hour, the Indian pacers, barring Mohammed Shami, didn’t disappoint and kept bowling in the channel. Apart from some bounce, there wasn't a whole lot of help for the seam bowlers, and perhaps this was why India went in with an extra pace option of Ishant Sharma, who responded impressively, coming on as first change and testing Dean Elgar's footwork and judgment with his angle, a bit of seam movement, and a fullish length that forced the southpaw to go forward.

Surprisingly, they went wicket-less in the first session and it was only Ravichandran Ashwin who was the dominant force for the visitors as he kept up his probing lines and came very close to extract some outside edges before dismissing both the openers. In the final session of the day, when everything went wrong for the visitors, Ashwin provided another scalp to help India nose ahead at the stumps of the first day. 

No Bhuvneshwar? Are you serious, India?

It has to be the most bizarre decision taken by the Indian team on this tour so far. In the first Test in Cape Town, Bhuvneshwar Kumar picked up most wickets as a bowler among Indians (6) and was the second-most after Vernon Philander (9). He was a useful bat down the order and if you believe, he faced the most balls among Indians (127 balls) and the second-most after AB de Villiers (134). 

But, getting carried away by the pace and bounce of the surface, India left out Bhuvneshwar and brought in Ishant Sharma. Despite primarily being a swing bowler and not having extra bounce as a primary weapon, Bhuvneshwar has recently shown that he can be effective in any kind of wickets thanks to his discipline and the ability to move the ball off the seam. South Africa got a first-hand feeling of the same at Newlands and in Highveld, he could have been an important asset for the team thanks to his ability to mix up the slower and cross-seam balls to good effect.

So, instead of leaving Bhuvneshwar for Ishant, the more logical option could be to leave out Jasprit Bumrah. But for reasons only known to them, the team management left their most potent option out of the playing XI and it was a decision that they started paying for as soon as the first ball was bowled. 

Tide suddenly changed in India’s favour

Faf du Plessis' request for a green and lively wicket was not produced and instead, the fans got to see a wicket which was brown and on the slower side - the usual Centurion carry was not evident at all. The Indian bowlers had to toil hard as Faf du Plessis and Hashim Amla produced a 47-run partnership in the third session after AB de Villiers’ dismissal, but certainly, the hosts were in for a surprise. 

India were supposed to take the new ball instantly to break the partnership, but Kohli decided against it and kept continuing with the old ball in search of reverse swing. While that was understandable, India’s quest almost took a toll as the duo didn’t show any weakness, but a superb Hardik Pandya fielding did the job for India. Pandya responded to Amla's quick single in his follow-through by getting to the ball sharply and knocked down the stumps at the non-striker's end. Amla’s dismissal almost instantly triggered a collapse as Quinton de Kock couldn’t face more than one delivery and edged Ashwin to slip to continue his dismal run against off-spinners. While the Indian fans suddenly woke up from their slumber, Pandya and Parthiv Patel involved in a tag-team effort to run out Vernon Philander to give India another opportunity to make further inroads in the match. Although it is still South Africa’s game to an extent, they will obviously rue the last 10 overs and think, what could have been!

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