Centurion – Lungi Ngidi claimed his first Test wicket and produced a brilliant runout on what was a gruelling day of hard-fought Test cricket at Centurion on Sunday.
The 21-year-old debutant had to remain patient in the field as skipper Faf du Plessis backed Morne Morkel (1/47), Vernon Philander (0/23), Kagiso Rabada (1/33) and Keshav Maharaj (1/53), but when he finally got the ball for his second spell in the 50th over of the innings, Ngidi (1/26) took his chance.
India finished day two on 183/5, still 152 runs behind South Africa’s first innings total of 335 as the second Test arm wrestle between the No 1 and 2 ranked sides in world cricket continues.
For much of the day it had been difficult to separate the sides, but with the runs on the board South Africa are perhaps slightly ahead at this stage.
The Indian innings was held together by skipper Virat Kohli, who played superbly for his 85*, hitting eight fours in a 130-ball stay at the crease.
Kohli, so often criticised for not being able to produce the goods away from home against the game’s Test giants, has almost single-handedly kept his side in the series.
South Africa, starting the day on 269/6 following their late wobble on day one, would have wanted to post something over 350.
That was not to be as Keshav Maharaj (18) and Kagiso Rabada (11) made minimal impact.
Faf du Plessis, though, looked in good touch and he kept the scoreboard ticking over on his way to a 17th Test match half-century.
He was undone by a peach of a delivery from Ishant Sharma, bowled for 63, and when Morkel (6) was out looking to clear the ropes off Ravichandran Ashwin South Africa were all out for 335.
Given that they were 246/3 on day one, that total was disappointing.
India, on a wicket that was not doing much for the seam bowlers, were far better in the batting department compared to Cape Town.
Murali Vijay (46) and Lokesh Rahul (10) got the score to 28/0 before a sharp piece of fielding from Morkel off his own bowling got the breakthrough.
Morkel had gone full and Rahul looked to drive him straight, but the lanky fast bowler got down well to take a good catch.
The Proteas had their second the very next ball when Cheteshwar Pujara, usually so calm out in the middle, pushed Morkel to Ngidi at mid-on.
Perhaps he underestimated how quickly Ngidi can move for a big man, but Pujara set off for what always looked a risky single.
The South African debutant moved swiftly to his right, made the pick-up and released for a direct hit at the bowler’s end as Pujara was well short.
At 28/2, Kohli walked to the crease with his side, and their series, in trouble.
The skipper was positive from the very beginning of his knock and it quickly became clear that if South Africa were going to take proper control of this match, they would have to get Kohli out as soon as possible.
Instead, Kohli and Vijay set about recovering the Indian innings and at tea they had gotten through unscathed with the scoreboard reading 80/2.
The match was on a knife edge at that stage, but South Africa got their much-needed wicket through Keshav Maharaj when Vijay tried a late cut but edged to Quinton de Kock.
There has been so much controversy surrounding the selection Rohit Sharma in this Indian Test side, with Indian critics believing that Ajinkya Rahane should be backed instead.
Sharma’s role in the limited overs set-up has never been questioned, but there are doubts over his ability to adapt to foreign conditions on the Test stage.
Those doubts are still very much intact.
Rabada beat Sharma for pace when he was on 10 and the ball rapped him on the pads. It looked out to the naked eye and the umpire duly confirmed those suspicions, but Sharma went upstairs for the review.
It didn’t help, and India were 132/4.
Ngidi had bowled just four of South Africa’s first 49, but when he came back for his second spell he almost had Centurion rocking immediately.
With the first ball of his fifth over, Ngidi thought he had Kohli trapped LBW. The Indian superstar had walked across his stumps looking to work the ball onto the on-side.
The original decision was ‘not out’, but Du Plessis wasted no time going upstairs for the review.
Centurion held its breath, and the initial replays suggested that Kohli was stone dead. But when UltraEdge came into play, it revealed that Ngidi had found the faintest of inside edges and the decision stood.
Ngidi did have his man shortly after, though, when he had Parthiv Patel (19) caught behind for what was the moment of the day at Centurion.
At stumps, Hardik Pandya (11*) was at the wicket with Kohli.