Despite losing captain Dean Elgar early on, South Africa will be the happier side at the end of day one of the third Test after they dismissed the Indians for 223 at Newlands on Tuesday.
CAPE TOWN – Among the plethora of Test cricket’s many idiosyncrasies is that the true value of a side’s first-innings total cannot be known until the other team has batted.
It is for that sole reason that the jury remains unclear on whether South Africa’s bowlers have placed them in a position of strength in dismissing India for 223 on an absorbing first day of this series-decider here at Newlands.
And that became even more patent during a tension-filled 35 minutes the South African batsmen had to endure while the sun was setting over the magnificent Table Mountain.
During that period South Africa lost their Wanderers hero Dean Elgar, who lasted just 19 minutes and 16 balls, before edging Jasprit Bumrah to Cheteshwar Pujara at first slip.
Although the loss of their skipper Elgar would have left the South African dressing room plenty to ponder ahead of what is expected to be another intoxicating day of Test cricket on Wednesday, they can also reflect on a bowling performance that may have yet given them the edge as this Test evolves over the coming days.
On a surface that provided assistance to the seamers throughout the bowling unit, in particular Kagiso Rabada, who seems to have fully rediscovered his mongrel after the “discussion” with Elgar at the Wanderers, generated significant movement and genuine menace.
The leading wicket-taker in the series would have been fully deserving of a “five-for”, but ultimately had to settle for excellent figures of 4/73.
Among the four scalps was the golden wicket of the Indian captain Virat Kohli. After missing the Wanderers defeat due to a back spasm, the Indian skipper was back in the heat of the battle and fully geared up a challenge to create history here at Newlands.
Despite coming into the Test with concerns over his form – Kohli has not struck a century in two years in the longest format – he looked assured from the outset.
Whereas the rest of the Indian batting line-up were having trouble to contend with the seam movement off the surface, Kohli was virtually impenetrable for the vast part of his 273-minute stay at crease.
But in any clash of the titans there is a worthy adversary and Rabada proved just that when he shaped one away for Kohli, which the Indian skipper could not resist poking at outside the off-stump and he was forced to take the long walk back to the pavilion for 79.
It may not have been Rabada’s best ball of the day – that was reserved for the luckless Ajinkya Rahane that shaped away beautifully off the Newlands pitch – but Kohli’s wicket did bring about the biggest celebration from South Africa’s talismanic fast bowler.
The rest of the South African bowling attack provided solid support to Rabada once they worked out that the shorter lengths of the Highveld had to be replaced with a fuller length here at the coast.
Duanne Olivier provided the opening breakthrough when he had KL Rahul caught behind in the first hour, while the ever-improving Marco Jansen (3/55) claimed three valuable wickets in the afternoon to maintain the pressure that Rabada had created from the Wynberg End.
South Africa’s left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj also picked up his first wicket of the series to complete a brilliant all-round bowling performance, especially after India had won the toss and opted to bat earlier in the day, but we will all only know how good it really was once the home team’s batting unit fare on Wednesday.
India first innings 223 all out (Virat Kohli 79, Cheteshwar Pujara 43, Kagiso Rabada 4/73, Marco Jansen 3/55)
South Africa 17/1 (Aiden Markram 8*, Keshav Maharaj 6*, Jasprit Bumrah 1/0)
South Africa trail by 206 runs.