Vijay, Kohli fight back after South Africa’s early strikes

Tea India 80 for 2 (Kohli 39*, Vijay 31*) trail South Africa 335 (Markram 94, Amla 82, du Plessis 63) by 255 runs

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Two soft dismissals in successive balls marred an otherwise excellent first two sessions for India on day two in Centurion, where they kept South Africa to a less-than-imposing first-innings total of 335. At tea, India were 80 for 2 in reply, with M Vijay and Virat Kohli looking solid in good batting conditions and bringing up a half-century stand for the third wicket.

Given the lack of either seam movement or steep bounce, Vijay and Kohli weren’t unduly worried by balls in the corridor outside off stump.

Making a pronounced movement across his stumps – much as he had in Cape Town – Vijay played at a greater percentage of balls in this channel than he is known to, particularly early in his innings, but looked in control apart from a couple of plays and misses. The step across brought him closer to the line of short balls outside off, and he picked up a square-cut boundary off Vernon Philander in this manner, and the shuffle also prompted South Africa to aim for his pads, which allowed him to pick up runs on the leg side every now and then.

As the second session wore on, South Africa moved their catchers in front of the wicket – quite often stationing two short covers – and looked to dry up the scoring. While Kohli remained busy, Vijay brought the shutters down and played for the interval, leaving more balls outside off stump and getting right behind the line to defend. He brought the session to a reassuringly solid close, playing out successive maidens as Philander probed away with Quinton de Kock standing up to the stumps.

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The conditions encouraged Kohli to play like he would at home, taking a big stride forward to good-length balls and drive them on the up through the covers. One such shot – a checked push rather than a full-blooded drive – brought him a boundary off only the fourth ball he faced, and he drove Morne Morkel for another boundary next ball, between the bowler and mid-on.

Those two boundaries released some of the pressure India had just put themselves in, when they had lost KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara, both needlessly, off successive Morkel deliveries. Feet going nowhere, Rahul pushed well in front of his body at a full one and spooned a return catch, while Pujara, haring out of his crease after clipping his first ball to the right of mid-on, was run-out by a brilliantly athletic pick-up and direct hit from the debutant Lungi Ngidi.

In conditions perfectly suited to his game, impetuousness or nerves had cost Pujara a massive opportunity to score some runs.

South Africa might have ended their innings with similar thoughts; starting from Hashim Amla’s run-out dismissal late on day one, they lost their last seven wickets for 89 runs.

On the second morning, a half-century from Faf du Plessis enabled them to add 66 to their total by the time India got through the last four wickets. A rash of missed chances frustrated India somewhat during a 42-run eighth-wicket stand between du Plessis and Kagiso Rabada, but they created enough chances in an improved bowling performance for the let-offs to not cost them too much.

As a collective, India’s fast bowlers were far more consistent on the second morning than they had been on day one. Ishant Sharma and Jasprit Bumrah only conceded 12 runs in the first eight overs of the day before Mohammed Shami came on to bowl. Shami found the rhythm that had deserted him all through Saturday, hitting the seam on a tight line close to off stump and finding movement off the deck, mostly away from the right-hander. One such delivery gave India their first breakthrough of the morning, Keshav Maharaj nicking behind to give Shami his 100th Test wicket.

At the other end, R Ashwin looked like getting Rabada out at any moment, confounding the left-hander with his dip and turn. Twice in two balls, India’s fielders let off Rabada. First, he nicked a quick-turning offbreak from Ashwin to the right of Virat Kohli at slip, and India’s captain got a hand to the ball but couldn’t hold on. Then he charged out of his crease, slogged, and miscued one high over the point region. Converging without communicating clearly, Hardik Pandya – who got his hands to the ball – and Shami fluffed up the opportunity.

Pandya, replacing Shami, found Rabada’s edge in his first over but the ball didn’t carry to first slip; an argument could be made that the wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel should have dived across and gone for the catch. Soon after, du Plessis appeared to edge Ashwin while looking to defend him off the back foot and the ball clanged off Parthiv’s gloves.

Around all these missed opportunities, South Africa were scoring some valuable runs; du Plessis had driven Shami straight and punched Shami through cover point for fours, and then swept Ashwin hard and low to the square-leg boundary. A late-cut off Ashwin’s carrom ball moved the partnership with Rabada past 40.

Ishant then returned, sending Pandya to the square-leg boundary, and a bit of athleticism from the latter sent back Rabada after he miscued a hook. Then du Plessis, failing to get fully forward, left a gap between bat and pad and let a full indipper from Ishant sneak through. Morkel, promoted to No. 10 ahead of Ngidi, played a couple of gorgeous leg-side clips off Ishant, but didn’t last long against Ashwin, miscuing a lofted shot to deep cover and falling to him for the sixth time in six Tests, 11 minutes from lunch.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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