India vs South Africa | Talking points from Day 4 of Centurion Test

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India vs South Africa | Talking points from Day 4 of Centurion Test

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Bastab K Parida


South Africa ended the day with the upper hand after India lost three wickets, including Virat Kohli, for 35, still 252 adrift from a highly-unlikely win in Centurion. Cheteshwar Pujara and Parthiv Patel are the two men on the crease now and will have the uphill task of negating the pacers tomorrow.

Brief Scores: South Africa 335 (Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82; R Ashwin 4/113, Ishant Sharma 3/46) & 258 (AB de Villiers 80, Dean Elgar 61, Mohammed Shami 4/49, Jasprit Bumrah 3/70) lead India 307 (Virat Kohli 153, Morne Morkel 4-60) & 35/3 (Cheteshwar Pujara 11*, Murali Vijay 9; Lungi Ngidi 2/14, Kagiso Rabada 1/9) by 252 runs.

Quinton de Kock’s hide-and-seek game with luck

On the first ball of the 48th over of South Africa’s second innings, Mohammed Shami managed to get reverse swing and extracted an edge that flew past the man at the slip. He was wide and de Kock chanced his bat to get it away for a four. On the next ball, Shami extracted another edge of the wicket-keeper batsman when he tried to close the face of the bat and the leather flew fine off the outer edge to go between the wide slip and keeper for the second consecutive boundaries in as many balls. De Kock’s good luck helped him once again on the third ball of the over, the batsman flirted at a length ball outside off to get it past the man at second slip.

After surviving for as many as three consecutive balls, de Kock would surely have thanked the cricket gods, but the nightmare waited for him on the very next delivery. Shami kept hitting a good length outside off stump and finding just a bit of seam movement and now it was not going to be left by Parthiv. The over was just a microcosm of what was Shami was doing the entire day - bowling in with a lot of energy and creating chances in regular intervals. With reverse swing on offer, the Bengal pacer made sure that India had the most of the benefits, and at the same time, sent a cautionary warning to the South African wicket-keeper as well.

Faf du Plessis and the art of blocking

The ordeal a proper top order batsman goes through while batting with the lower order is what gives them purpose as a batsman. There were the legendary Hanif Mohammads and Sunil Gavaskars of the yesteryear who built brick walls with their innings to avoid a loss and it seems Faf du Plessis is slowly and steadily learning the art of blocking and frustrating the bowlers on their wake.

On his debut match against Australia in Adelaide, Australia set the visitors a target of 430 runs with almost one and a half day of play left. And with Peter Siddle running in hard to unleash fire, the visitors were facing the end of the barrel at 45/4. However, debutant du Plessis, partnering AB de Villiers in the middle, batted through the entire morning session of the final day adding 49 runs in 35 overs. When de Villiers and Kallis departed, South Africa found themselves at 233/6 and Siddle removed Dale Steyn and Rory Kleinveldt to bring Australia closer to the victory. But du Plessis matched the pacer's effort by combining with Albie Morkel to play out a draw ending the day at 248/8. It was the innings that gave the sneak peak the character of the current South African skipper and today, he just decided to live up to that.

Low bounce had been the biggest threat for batsmen on the third day and Bumrah had removed Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla with shooters pitching short of a good length, but du Plessis was unperturbed by the same and defended them with a straight bat. Although Pandya and Ishant kept bowling just short of a good length, often sending down cutters to discomfit the batsmen with movement or inconsistent bounce, but du Plessis let them and made sure that South Africa could post a decent target in front of the visitors.

Poor Centurion pitch

For the first four days when the Centurion wicket behaved more sub-continental than South African, everyone took it with a pinch of salt. Bounce was expected to make its appearance in the last day of the Test, but Highveld behaved like an amateurish wicket with variable bounce - while one is staying low, the other one from the same position was rising on the batsmen. The one that got Murali Vijay out stayed low and it would be unfair to blame the Tamil Nadu opener for the same. But when Lungi Ngidi got Kohli out, he previewed the ball with three inconsistent balls and the Indian skipper got out with a ball that stayed low and nipped back in. 

Even before India’s run-chase began, the South African batsmen had also suffered the same fate in their second innings as the Indian bowlers, especially Mohammed Shami and Jasprit Bumrah, managed to find good enough bounce while keeping the ball low at the same time. That got into de Kock, who failed to understand the balls and kept on edging the ball before eventually giving a catch to Parthiv Patel. Yesterday, the Bumrah removed Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla leg before wicket with shooters pitching short of a good length as well. It is extremely rare to see such type of wicket in a Test match in Centurion, a wicket that swears by its pace and bounce, and it appears the curator Bryan Bloy, who is making a Test match wicket for the very first time, needs to learn a lesson or three about pitch-making. ICC would be really gracious if they give the pitch anything better than a poor rating.

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