What a day in Centurion!
Rain stopped the day’s play in 59 overs. But what happened on the green pitch of Centurion before that! South Africa dropped the catch early. Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer both got 4 runs. India collapsed early on, with Kagiso Rabada in terrible form after lunch. And among all these, Lokesh Rahul played an innings with an extraordinary score.
At the end of the day, India returned to the dressing room with 208 for 8 in the first innings. Rabada has already picked up 5 wickets. And even if Kohli and Rohit couldn’t do it for India, Rahul turned the bat. Rahul ended the day unbeaten on 70 runs, of which he took 52 runs with four-sixes (10 fours and 2 sixes).
South Africa won the toss and put India in to bat, which is what they are supposed to do on such a pitch. Initially, the pace of Rabada and the debutant Nandre Berger – and more so the bouncers – blew India. However, the line of the South African pacers was not very good. But India could not take advantage of it.
In the fifth over, Rohit got out with a catch by Burger at long leg off Rabadar. Shubman Gill, the run-scorer in ODIs this year, failed once again in the Test, Berger, who returned him in the tenth over, returned Yasswi Jaiswal after a while, and India’s score stood at 24/3 in 67 balls.
Then Kohli and Iyer missed those two catches. Had he taken two catches, India’s score would have been 38 for 5 in 14 overs, but Kohli survived and played some great shots, accompanied by Iyer. India went into lunch with 91 runs for 3 wickets.
Who knows what Rabada ate for lunch! After returning from the break, the South African pacer crushed India’s middle order in a devastating spell. In the first over of the second session, Iyer hit the stumps with a gap in his bat-pad, starting with a great delivery, the most sought-after wicket came in the last ball of the 31st over.
Full length delivery was on the off stump, Kohli had to play. But after hitting the pitch, the ball went out with a light swing, touching the edge of Kohli’s bat and into the hands of the wicketkeeper. Awesome delivery! Considering the quality of the batsman, what is the appropriate delivery! Kohli returned with 38, ending India’s half of the innings at 107. India is shaking!
After four overs, Ashwin was also out with Rabada’s superb delivery. This time the bouncer, suddenly jumping up, Ashwin tried to block it somehow. No profit. Caught at third slip. India 121/6. One and a half hundred then thought of India!
Rahul was still standing at the other end of the crease, he was India’s hope. Otherwise, after Ashwin, only Shardul Tagore was the ‘batsman’. He did not stay long. Rabada sent back Shardul on the way to secure five wickets in the innings for the 14th time in his Test career. Shardul (24 runs from 33 balls) was quite aggressive on the way to the 43-run partnership, but after his return, India’s concern was with Rahul’s partner.
Rahul himself removed those worries with aggressive batting. Aggressive doesn’t mean flash batting. Rahul, who batted with great grammar from the start, played calculated cricket. In soft hand, low backlift, body ‘open’ with left shoulder towards umpire.
At the time of Shardul’s dismissal, Rahul’s run was 29 off 57 balls with 4 fours and 1 six. After Shardul, he took the entire burden of batting on his shoulders. What a great shot! It seemed that the pitch is a batting pitch only for him! Most of them were giving up the ball on the fourth stump, blocking it on the third-fourth stump, and on the fifth stump, it was doomed!
Before the tea break Berger is hit for a four at cover, Rabada at square drive. Starting with Berger after the tea break, a six after two balls in a row in the 52nd over! How is the six? Low shot over point. It became fifty in that six! The centurion obliged with a round of applause.
Yashpreet Bumrah (1 in 19 balls), who had been watching Rahul’s batting for so long as a spectator, did not last long after that, as the eighth batsman got out leaving the team at 192 runs. But Rahul is more aggressive with Siraj. Had to be! Sending Siraj out on strike means that’s alarming.
Coetzee hit two consecutive fours in Poole after a cover drive in the 58th over, making India 200. Jansen also hit a four in the last over before the rain, slicing the ball outside the off-stump.
Still survives, India’s hope also survives. 200 runs have passed, India is getting a relief. How much Rahul can do tomorrow may make the difference in the Test result. Oh, two years ago in this centurion, Rahul scored a century against South Africa in the Boxing Day Test itself!