Amid the chaos of the pandemic, it was a perfect start to the series. Starting the day with a bit of cloud cover, the morning session was welcomed by bright sunshine. Despite the cloud cover in the first session, Indian openers Mayank Agarwal and KL Rahul were outstanding, leaving the balls well and capitalizing on every scoring opportunity. They set the tone for the others with a 117-run opening partnership. Cheteshwar Pujara was the only batsman to miss out as he was dismissed for a golden duck.
Rest of the partnerships, third between Virat Kohli and Rahul and fourth between Ajinkya Rahane and Rahul had a 50+ partnership. Kohli and Rahul stitched an 82-run partnership for the second wicket and Rahane and Rahul forged an unbeaten partnership of 73 for the fourth wicket. India are in the driver’s seat with 272/3 at the end of day one. Day two is expected to be filled with some more fun and records.
However, the second day poses a threat, not for the Indian batsmen or the South African bowlers, but for a cricketing enthusiast. Just when the game has taken its shape, the rain gods are expected to play a spoilsport for the majority of the day. If at all the weather reports are true to what they say, 16.8 mm rain is expected and a minimum of four hours of rain is expected. This means a loss of at least two sessions of the day.
Solidarity needed in the first session of day 2
The success behind India's batting on day one was their discipline. They left balls around the fifth stump and sixth stump on a consistent basis that made South African bowlers change their line and helped Indian batsmen score runs freely. In the first session of day two, Rahul and Rahane need to replicate that to sustain and score runs in the second session. In Tests since 2016, the first session of day two has seen wickets fall at an average of 23.6 and balls/wicket ratio of 44.1. Only on the first session of day five has seen a poorer balls/wicket ratio (19).
In any case, if they survive the first session, the second session is better for batting. Wickets have fallen every 48.7 runs and 86.8 balls, considerably the best second session across all days. Which is why the first session needs a bit of a cautious approach.
Rahane hopes of a revival
Thankfully, Rahane’s experience was the only reason which probably helped him to stay in the playing XI despite poor performances in recent times. However, he has got a start in this innings, but he needs to convert it to a big one, unlike his previous knocks. The one good thing that gives him some hope is his record in Tests starting on the boxing day Tests (26th December). Prior to this Test, in four Tests starting on December 26, Rahane had scored 516 runs in eight innings at an average of 86 with two centuries and two half-centuries. In this innings as well, by scoring 40 runs, he has extended his tally to 566 runs. His record on boxing day Tests are rays of hope for his revival in Tests. Irrespective of what the weather report suggests, day two will be Rahane’s most important day of his Test career.
Rishabh Pant’s quick striking ability
With runs onboard for India, South Africa needs to be mindful of Rishabh Pant’s counterattack. In Tests since 2020, Pant has scored 795 runs at a strike rate of 65. Among batsmen who have scored 500+ runs in this time, no batsman has bettered him. To add more to his striking abilities, in his Test career, Pant has come into bat after the 80th over in six innings and he has scored at a strike rate of 88.2. He averages 32.5 in these six innings.
As said earlier, all these action-packed events can be witnessed only if the rain god stays away. Only thing we can expect or hope is that the weather predictions go wrong and we get a full day’s play.