Mohali - The Proteas took on India at their own game, employing three spinners to bowl the home side out for 201 on the opening day of the four-Test Freedom Series on Thursday.
Scorecard: India v SA
India, who won the toss, must have been looking for a total in excess of at least 300 on a ground where the average first innings score is in the region of 400.
By the close of player, however, India were back in the match, having reduced the Proteas to 28/2 in 20 overs with both Stiaan van Zyl and Faf du Plessis having been dismissed not offering a stroke to the spin of Ravi Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja.
Hashim Amla and Dean Elgar will continue the fight tomorrow in the knowledge that whoever leads on the first innings is going to hold a very strong hand with the match unlikely to last four days, let alone the five for which it is scheduled.
Both sides opted to go a batsman light so that they could field five specialist bowlers. In the case of the Proteas this meant they could include both Simon Harmer and Imran Tahir while Kagiso Rabada became the 88th Protea Test cap in place of the injured Morne Morkel.
But it was the part-timer, Elgar, who did the major damage for the Proteas as he flighted the ball into a very rough area of the pitch – even before the bowlers had created footmarks – to take a career-best 4/22 in 8 overs. His only comparable previous analysis at any level was the 4/25 he took for the VKB Knights against The Unlimited Titans back in the 20111/12 season at SuperSport Park but on that occasion three of his four wickets were tail-enders including two Proteas in Morne Morkel and Marchant de Lange.
This time he accounted for far more quality by dismissing Cheteshwar Pujara and then Ajinkya Rahane and Wriddhiman Saha off successive deliveries. For good measure he also had Amit Mishra caught in the deep.
In all, the South African spinners bowled 32 overs as opposed to the 36 of the seamers and took 7 wickets with Imran cleaning up the tail by taking 2/23. It was arguably the finest collective effort by a South African spin attack in India ever with Harmer also chiming in with the wicket of India’s top scorer, Murali Vijay (75 off 136 balls, 12 fours).
Vijay and Pujara were responsible for the best partnership of the match to date of 63 in 20 overs.
The South African seamers also played their part, adjusting their length to the prevailing conditions. Vernon Philander bowled particularly well for his 2 wickets while Rabada’s first Test wicket was the crucial one of Indian captain, Virat Kohli, caught at short cover by the man of the day, Elgar.
He should have had a second when he trapped Ashwin leg before wicket only for the decision to be over-ruled for his over-stepping the crease in a moment of ill-discipline.
Just how difficult it is going to be for the batsmen going forward became evident in South Africa’s 20 overs at the crease.
Fortunately they have three very cool customers in Elgar, Amla and AB de Villiers who have shown their ability to handle both pressure and extreme sub-continent conditions in the past. The Proteas’ prospects are very much in their hands.
To win this Test match after losing the toss and being condemned to bat last will be an achievement of some magnitude.