Rahane holds fort for India after Abbott and Piedt put SA in control
In what turned out to be an absorbing day of Test cricket, which must please the purists after the furore over the pitches in the series so far, South African bowlers struck regular blows to peg India to a creditable total of 231/7 at the end of the first day of the fourth Test at the Feroz Shah Kotla Stadium in Delhi on Thursday.
Brief scores: India 231/7 in 84 overs (Rahane 89*, Kohli 44 ; Piedt 4/101, Abbott 3/23)
Virat Kohli won the toss in his home ground and decided to bat first on a Feroz Shah Kotla track which initially looked like a hard pitch with cracks all over. Batting first seemed like the right call on a surface, which is expected to deteriorate as the match progresses.
Despite its initial appearance, the ball did not come on the bat as quickly as the batsmen anticipated it to. The Proteas' bowlers made life difficult for the batsmen with their probing line and length. Kyle Abbott and Dane Piedt, who were brought into the lineup for this match, impressed with their consistency, and it was the 25-year-old off-spinner, who provided South Africa with their first breakthrough.
Murali Vijay edged a delivery to the slip while trying to drive without getting to the pitch of the ball. Hashim Amla took the catch and India lost their first wicket in the 17th over for just 30 runs.
Shikhar Dhawan, at the other end, was looking in much better form in this Test, and the left-handed batsman made a conscious effort to leave balls outside the off-stump, something which has troubled him throughout the series.
Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara had to dig deep to preserve their wickets against a fired-up South African bowling lineup. They scored just 60 runs at the end of an engrossing first session, but more importantly had managed to remain not-out.
However, the home side were blown away by the Proteas in the second session. Piedt broke the partnership when he trapped Dhawan in front of the wicket, from a delivery which drifted into the left-hander, instead of spinning away.
Kyle Abbott, who had bowled brilliantly, got the wicket he deserved when Pujara edged an angled delivery onto his stumps. The ball seamed in after pitching and made it through Pujara's bat and pad.
Interestingly, it was the 13th time Pujara was bowled out, his highest dismissal method, and for a player who is known for his defensive solidity, this statistic does not make for a good reading.
At 66/3, India had two new batsman on the pitch in Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane, both of whom were struggling with their form. But the Indian skipper looked in a positive mindset from the word go, and like Dhawan, made an effort to not poke at deliveries outside the off-stump.
The duo soon found their stride and constructed a much required 70-run partnership, before Kohli was dismissed in an unlucky fashion. The 27-year-old, who was at 44, connected well with a sweep shot off Piedt's bowling. However, the ball struck Temba Bavuma at short leg and went up in the air, and wicketkeeper Dane Vilas took a diving catch.
Rohit Sharma did not last long as well. The 28-year-old received a lifeline when Amla dropped his catch in the slips but immediately after, Rohit, inexplicably, charged down the pitch for a slog over long-on which ended in a simple catch by Imran Tahir.
Wriddhiman Saha was lucky to survive a lbw appeal from Abbott in the 52nd over, but Abbott got his man in his very next over, when the Indian wicketkeeper dragged a wide delivery onto his stumps.
The Proteas ended the second session in firm control of the game as India lost five wickets in the post-lunch session for just 79 runs.
Rahane led India's fight-back when play resumed, and was ably supported by Ravindra Jadeja. Rahane grew tonfidence as the day progressed, and hit Piedt for a six and a four, in two consecutive deliveries, to complete his first half century on Indian soil.
Meanwhile, the spinners began to extract more turn from the pitch and the occasional delivery also kept low. Jadeja's aggressive nature eventually got the better of him as he came down the track to Abbott and picked out Dean Elgar at mid-wicket.
Rahane, however, continued to dominate at the other end except for a brief moment when he got a huge reprieve when Amla dropped his second catch of the day.
That dropped catch could well turn out to be a turning point in this game with Rahane ending the day unbeaten at 89. Incredibly, it is also the highest individual score in the series.