Mayank Agarwal knocked up his maiden Test century and later converted it into a double on a day that saw India take giant strides in the match. After a forgettable first day, South Africa had a shambolic morning session. Odd strategies, reactive field placements and two players (Rohit Sharma and Agarwal) very fluent against spin, milked the South African bowlers at 4.2 runs per over in the session.
Such was the consistency of run-scoring from both ends that the solitary maiden over of the session came just before the lunch break. The two batsmen manoeuvred the field with precision to ensure that boundaries were a frequent event during their partnership. A string of sweeps and reverse sweeps broke the back of ‘bowl on the leg stump strategy’ that was employed to contain the batsmen.
After waiting for 82 overs for their turn to bat, none of the other batsmen made any considerable impact in the innings. Cheteshwar Pujara (6) got a beauty from Vernon Philander, one that seamed away after pitching and sent his off-stump cartwheeling. Virat Kohli creamed some picturesque drives on his way to 20 but was undone by the slowness of the wicket. Trying to flick a length ball, he got a leading edge back to Senuran Muthusamy, who picked up his first Test wicket. A dream wicket for any bowler, Virat Kohli, is also the first Test victim of Muthusamy’s teammate Kagiso Rabada and the West Indian Alzarri Joseph.
In a search for quick runs, Ajinkya Rahane and Hanuma Vihari followed soon, both fell to Keshav Maharaj. Ravindra Jadeja, promoted above Vihari to increase the tempo scored a brisk 30* as India declared at 502/7 leaving South Africa 20 overs to play late in the day.
Insulted was added to injury for South Africa when the ‘Ravis’ - Ashwin and Jadeja reduced them to 39/3 before the end of play. In 16 overs between them, the duo, as a lesson for their South African counterparts, demonstrated the consistency in pace and length needed for Indian pitches.
Aiden Markram received a beauty from Ashwin that turned and bowled him through the gate. Bowling round the wicket to Theunis de Bruyn who was in at three, Ashwin induced an inside-edge of a drive that was neatly grasped by Wriddhiman Saha. The advantage of playing a specialist keeper was exemplified by how easy Saha made the catch look. Dane Piedt, sent in as a night watchman was cleaned up by Jadeja an over later.
South Africa would have been four down if only Vihari had held a tough chance off Temba Bavuma at short leg.
Earlier in the day, Rohit Sharma converted his century from the first day to a 150. Sharma was particularly aggressive in the first session and scored 61 runs in 70 balls in the session. He did offer an opportunity in the first hour of play when he nicked one off Philander but Quinton de Kock, standing up to the stumps, failed to gather it. Being ultra-aggressive, he hit Maharaj for a six and a four in the 82nd over of the innings but was beaten on the forward push and was out stumped.
Agarwal batted with caution till he reached his century post which he too joined Sharma as the duo hit 12 boundaries in as many overs till the record stand was broken. The partnership of 317 is now India’s highest partnership for any wicket against South Africa.
While wickets continue to fell from one end, Agarwal maintained his tempo as he brought his double-hundred in the 116th over of the innings. His batting against spin was particularly impressive. Batting with full control on all lengths, he scored in front and behind the wickets with equal comfort. Swift with his feet, he hit six towering sixes, each more effortless than the last.
The part-time spin of Dean Elgar, who is also the leading wicket-taker in India among the current South African bowlers (6), brought the demise of Agarwal who hit a full toss straight to deep midwicket.
Saha, who was picked ahead of Pant, batted with purpose and scored a 16-ball 21 before pulling a long hop from Piedt straight to deep midwicket.
The ‘Ravis’ were at the crease when Kohli called his men back. Still trailing by 463 on a pitch that is singing a different tune for Ashwin and Jadeja, South African hopes seem dim. Unless rain comes to their rescue, it is tough to imagine a comeback from the Proteas.