After Faf du Plessis’s dismissal an hour after lunch with South Africa still 439 runs behind, there was a general sense of curiosity whether Virat Kohli will enforce the follow-on. With no over from a fast bowler for the better part of the session after lunch, the odds towards enforcing the follow-on seemed higher. However, the batsmen in for the ninth wicket stand for South Africa had other plans.
In a partnership that lasted for 259 balls, Vernon Philander and Keshav Maharaj handed out batting lessons to the South Africa top-order batsmen. In the highest ever ninth-wicket partnership in Tests between India and South Africa, Philander played the longest innings of his Test career (192 balls) while Maharaj knocked up his maiden half-century.
Probably conceived by the prejudice towards subcontinent pitches, top order South African batsmen were caught unprepared against the Indian pace battery in the morning session. Following a collapse late on the second day, South Africa were five down inside the first six overs of the third day’s play.
Using the spice in the wicket early morning with a ball that was just 17 overs old, Mohammed Shami bounced out the night watchman Anrich Nortje. The other overnight batsman, Theunis de Bruyn, continued the display of confident batsmanship from overnight. Severe to full balls, de Bruyn hit two boundaries both sides of the wicket. Judging his comfort to full-length balls, Umesh Yadav dragged his length back a bit to induce an outside edge of a punch that was held by Wriddhiman Saha, diving to his right in front of the first slip.
South Africa’s two most experienced batsmen, du Plessis and Quinton de Kock then added 75 for the sixth wicket. Until de Kock’s dismissal, four overs before lunch, the pair scored at 4.7 runs per over to offer some momentum to the innings that appeared to be going nowhere.
Surviving the spell from pacers, the duo was particularly severe on Ravindra Jadeja who was hit for 25 runs in the three overs he bowled during the sixth wicket partnership. Du Plessis hit him for a six off the second ball of his spell and then followed up with three fours in an over, the best over for South Africa in the day, to notch up his half-century. De Kock, for whom most of the fielders were inside the circle, hit seven boundaries in his 48 ball 31. Ashwin provided the breakthrough before lunch as he bowled a length ball to de Kock that turned enough to beat him and kiss the off-stump.
Post lunch, South Africa’s most consistent batsmen in the series so far, Senuran Muthusamy was dismissed for the first time on this tour as he shouldered arms to a seemingly innocuous delivery from Jadeja that turned enough to have him out LBW. Du Plessis, batting at 6, a position too low for the most experienced batsman in the line-up, was beautifully set-up by Ashwin. Bowling the first one of the over that turned immensely, Ashwin drew him forward with a similar delivery two balls later, only this time it went straight after pitching to find the outside edge through to the first slip. Out at 61, du Plessis failed to convert the start into a big score yet again.
A calm before the mini-storm then followed as Vernon Philander, carrying a pair from the last Test, and Keshav Maharaj, nursing a shoulder injury from a dive in the first innings got their heads together to grind up a partnership.
Getting off the mark in the series after facing 22 balls in this innings, Philander grew in confidence about his defensive technique with each passing delivery to remain unbeaten on 44* of 192 balls at the end of the South African innings. Maharaj, the more aggressive of the two, did not shy away from hitting loose balls to the boundary. Wincing in pain after every pull shot or a drive that required the stretching of the right shoulder, he carried on bravely as he top-scored for South Africa with an innings of 72.
Following du Plessis’s dismissal, the duo added 29 hard-earned runs in the first 100 balls they faced before tea as they looked largely unperturbed by the two spinners and even by the reverse swing of Shami. Post-tea, the duo added 74 runs in 24 overs to take their partnership total to a 109 as the second new ball did not provide considerable assistance to the Indian bowlers who were then found wanting for a Plan B.
As the duo appeared to have batted out the day, a change of tactics provided India with the ninth wicket. Bowling slower through the air, Ashwin induced a flick from Maharaj that was caught neatly at the leg slip. Continuing the similarities to the first Test, Kagiso Rabada was out leg-before to Ashwin four overs later in a dismissal that was a mirror image of his first-innings dismissal in the first Test. Only this time the on-field umpire himself gave it out.
Earlier in the day, Ishant Sharma only bowled 5 overs in the day – two in the first session during which he was given two warnings for running on the pitch and three with the second new ball.
Strangely enough, the destroyer-in-chief, Umesh Yadav was brought in to ball only after the second new ball was 15 overs old. A lethargic two over spell from him somewhat backed the captain’s decision.
With a lead 326, India have the option of enforcing the follow-on. However, knowing the general trend, India are more likely to come out to bat on the fourth day to give South Africa around 500 to get in about four sessions.