Hindustan Times (Jalandhar)
India need miracle to keep series alive
UPHILL TASK Set a target of 287 after solid batting from De Villiers and Du Plessis, India lose openers and Kohli on Day 4
CENTURION: India’s ambition of winning a series in South Africa suffered a setback as the visitors were left tottering at 35/3 on a two-paced pitch that was more Indian than Highveld in nature.
The penchant for needless shots when balls should have been left alone hurt as Murali Vijay and KL Rahul fell to careless shots before the law of averages caught up with Virat Kohli, the only centurion in this series so far.
At the crease are Cheteshwar Pujara and Parthiv Patel — coming ahead of Rohit Sharma — who might be kept awake in the night by the pain caused from a stinging Lungi Ngidi bouncer at his ribcage. With Kohli dismissed, chasing 286 might be a difficult ask but India need to find the inspiration to keep going.
The target could have been less though. Mohammed Shami finally found his own in the morning session and removed the dangerous AB de Villiers before dismissing Dean Elgar and Quinton de Kock. But then Kohli, adding to a long list of puzzling decisions in this series, suddenly pulled him out of the attack.
Faf du Plessis displayed the tenacity befitting a captain by knuckling downing to produce a slow but defiant 48. Runs were hard to come by as South Africa added 83 and 57 runs in the first two sessions but the 46-run partnership between du Plessis and Vernon Philander gave them the fillip needed to reach 258.
Overnight rain had spiced up the pitch a bit but de Villiers batted cleverly with Dean Elgar in a 141-run stand for the third wicket.
Du Plessis opened his account with a boundary from the toe-end of his bat, trying to sweep Ravichandran Ashwin but quickly changed his approach after losing Elgar and de Kock in the space of three overs.
Since then, it was a long and resolute blockathon from du Plessis till he hit two boundaries to take South Africa’s lead past 250. His resilience should have been the cue for India to see out the rest of the day with the bat. Instead, Vijay dragged Rabada’s delivery on to his stumps playing from the crease. Rahul then compounded India’s trouble by playing away from his body and almost slicing Ngidi to Keshav Maharaj at backward point.
That India didn’t learn their lessons from Newlands was evident when they didn’t send a nightwatchman ahead of Kohli. Walking across the stumps to meet the ball’s line helped Kohli flourish in the first innings but this time Ngidi angled the ball into him without much bounce to trap him leg-before. The send-off given to Kohli showed how much South Africa value his scalp.
For India, now is the time they prove they are not always relying on Kohli to bail them out. If they can’t, it might seem they are regressing to the age when Sachin Tendulkar used to be India’s one-man army. With tours of England and Australia coming up, it can’t be good news.