Led by the dogged Dean Elgar, a rebuilding South Africa gave a wonderful demonstration of their determination as they took the fight to the Indians in exemplary fashion before the hosts rallied in the final session to keep their noses ahead in the opening Test here on Friday.
With South Africa resuming the third day on 39/3 and ace spinners R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja having already injected enough fear by Thursday evening, many predicted a Proteas collapse that was a regular sight during the 2015 series. But the South Africans surprised one and all with a splendid rearguard action to take stumps at 385/5 at the Dr YSR ADA-VCA Cricket Stadium.
Elgar, who has had a lot of trouble against Ashwin in the past, orchestrated the fightback with a bloody-minded 160 (287b, 18×4, 4×6), the knock completely catching the Indians cold who thought South Africa would roll over quite easily. Elgar also found great allies, first in skipper Faf du Plessis (55, 103b, 8×4, 1×6) and then in wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock (111, 163b, 16×4, 2×6) as South Africa baulked the Indian ascent.
Elgar, one of the pillars in this South African batting line-up, was exceptional in the way he batted throughout the day. He knew the only way to counter Ashwin and Jadeja, the two destructive forces for India on home soil, was to take them head-on and he did so with a great exhibition of courage.
He didn’t allow Ashwin and Jadeja to settle into any sort of rhythm, constantly attacking them and throwing them off balance. Every time Ashwin tossed the ball up in a bid to get wickets, the left-hander danced down the track and deposited him onto the stands. When Ashwin kept things slightly short, he slog-swept him with ease. It was the same treatment meted out to Jadeja as well.
It’s one thing to throw the kitchen sink at India’s primary weapons for a brief period but to do that over after over for a little over two sessions in baking heat needed oodles of courage and concentration. Even a minor slip-up could open the floodgates but Elgar barely backed down. He chose the right shots to cart them for boundaries, presenting a full face of the bat otherwise. The mix of attack and defence irresistibly potent.
Du Plessis and De Kock also deserve an equal amount of praise. Du Plessis, who managed a mere 60 runs in four Tests in the 2015 series, batted with great positivity. Just like Elgar, he used his feet brilliantly to the spinners and his 115-run stand for the fifth wicket came at a fair clip as well. And when he departed, de Kock took over the mantle, smashing boundaries at will, not using the feet like Elgar and du Plessis but just standing and delivering. Some of the shots through and over the covers punched severe holes into Ashwin’s ego.
With Ashwin and Jadeja struggling to stall the runs, Kohli constantly kept shuffling his bowlers, summoning Hanuma Vihari and even Rohit Sharma. But none could make any sort of impact as the trio of Elgar, du Plessis and de Kock blunted them brutally. There were a few edges here and there but either India grassed them or the ball flew where no fielder was stationed.
De Kock departed soon after completing his century, a peach from Ashwin crashing through his defences. Ashwin completed a five-for when he rattled the timber of Vernon Philander but Senuran Muthuswamy and Keshav Maharaj braved it out in the final half-hour to frustrate the Indians, symptomatic of their day in general.
The Indians though are still ahead in the contest and they would be hoping to knock the final two wickets early on Friday and then get some quick runs on board to give themselves enough time to skittle out the South Africans. The Proteas will be hoping to extend the fight.