SA's only problem was that their hosts were once again superb.
Second Test, Day 1, Stumps
India (3 wickets)273
Batting: Agarwal 108*, Pujara 58, Kohli 63*
Bowling: Rabada 3/48
For much of yesterday, South Africa were good. In fact, Kagiso Rabada was very good. The only problem for the visitors was that their hosts India were once again superb – even more so when it really mattered.
Rabada (3/48) found his mojo again that had seemingly gone walkabout since the IPL. He bristled in, breathed fire, and started to resemble the champion everyone knows he is.
His reward was all three Indian wickets to fall on this opening day of the second Test in Pune.
The pity was that his engine only started revving up in his second spell. The first was littered with no-balls when the 24-year-old was clearly still struggling with his rhythm.
On a pitch that offered the seam bowlers significant movement off the surface, it was criminal that the new-ball did not do more damage than the lone scalp of Rohit Sharma – ironically to a beauty from Rabada that left the run-hungry Indian opener just enough to brush the outside edge.
“It was fantastic to see him bowl, especially, the spell after lunch and tea. I look for the special spells when the circumstances are tough and he (Radada) bowled very well” Proteas bowling coach Vincent Barnes said.
“We had to keep bowling in the right areas and they would make mistakes. Cheteshwar Pujara at one stage looked set and KG (Rabada) bowled in the right area and got the wicket. There were a lot of signs that he’s getting to the top.”
The rub of the green certainly did favoured the hosts. Virat Kohli again won a toss with his counterpart Faf du Plessis calling incorrectly for the ninth successive time on the subcontinent.
And when proceedings got under way Vernon Philander had a confident LBW shout against Mayank Agarwal over-ruled through “umpire’s call”, while Temba Bavuma, fielding at silly mid-on, dropped Pujara when the right-hander had yet to open his account.
All of this had a major play on the outcome.
Agarwal was sublime from thereon, following up his 203 in last week’s first Test with another composed 108. Equally, his 138-run second wicket partnership with the stylish Pujara (58) ensured captain Kohli could walk to the crease with the table perfectly laid.
Having missed out on the run feast in Vizag, Kohli (63*) was determined to make amends and confidently tucked into the South African bowlers. Although Rabada continued to charge in, and Philander may have felt unlucky not to have been among the wicket-takers considering how many times he went past the outside edge, the Proteas simply could not manufacture a means to dislodge the Indian skipper.
Debutant Anrich Nortjé also tried his level best to hurry up Kohli and the rest of the Indian batsmen in a spirited maiden outing at Test level, but he too along with left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj had no break. The only “success” Nortjé could take away from his first day of Test cricket was hitting Agarwal flush on the helmet with a rapid delivery.
“Our focus on this tour is to bowl to our strengths. The plan was to be patient on a wicket that was going to give us assistance in the morning,” Barnes said.
“If you looked at the conditions this morning, the window was a lot longer for fast bowlers than in Vizag. With a bit more luck we could have had a few more wickets.”