Former-cricketer and now coach, Rahul Dravid, has surely brought India on the doorstep of conquering the final frontier, South Africa, after conquering England and Australia. And the Monday fare at Wanderers was all about that grit and fight that has brought India so far.
However, team blue lost their captain and best batsman Virat Kohli to upper back spasms in the morning, the pitch was the heady cocktail of seam and bounce, and the total contribution of Nos. 3, 4 and 5 – considered the backbone of a batting unit – made a cumulative contribution of 23.
South Africa, at 35-1 at stumps, will certainly not breathe easy, even if they believe that they are very much in the game. The fact that Mohammed Siraj had a hamstring pull late in the day, though, could work in the hosts’ favour, if he is unable to bowl on Tuesday.
The South African attack –which got an injection of pace in the form of Duanne Ollivier –looked way more organized than the first Test in Centurion. Even after Indian openers KL Rahul and Mayank Agarwal had dealt with the first hour, they did not lose heart and kept attacking with the short delivery with the occasional sprinkling of the fuller one.
Mayank fell after the first drinks break. Cheteshwar Pujara (3) and Ajinkya Rahane (0) failed again, unable to deal with the pace and bounce, while Kohli’s replacement Hanuma Vihari scratched around for a 20 before falling to another short ball.
But there was Rahul, the stand-in captain, a Zen-like warrior, ready to ride the storm. He will score bigger runs than the 50 that he managed on Monday, but this was an innings that he will remember for a long time.
He faced 133 balls, which itself is a good enough indicator of the patience that he showed on this difficult track. Unburdened by the mantle of captaincy, he was absolutely clear in his thought process, knowing which one to play and which one to leave.
The drives were crisp, the back-foot play immaculate, and the only mistake that he committed was the one which brought about his dismissal. Left-arm pacer Marco Jansen’s (4/31) delivery rose steeply and Rahul couldn’t keep his pull down.
At 116-5, things could have got much worse for India, but Ravichandran Ashwin decided to justify his allrounder’s billing. He showed courage and didn’t mind going over the top when the ball was pitched up. He wasn’t exactly comfortable against the short ball, but the offie found a way to survive and score a quickfire 46 that gave India the oxygen to fight on.
Add to that the contributions of Shami and Bumrah and India had a score which was more than their first-innings total the last time in Johannesburg. Or at the Oval a few months ago.