Rahane steers India after Piedt four-for
India 231 for 7 (Rahane 89*, Piedt 4-101, Abbott 3-23) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Considering they were effectively operating with a three-man attack, South Africa did incredibly well to take seven wickets on a pitch that was better for batting than the one in Nagpur. However, the surface was not docile enough to afford India the luxury of facing an inept fourth bowler, and the lack of support for South Africa's frontline meant the batsmen could score freely when the first-choice bowlers were taken off or were tiring.
India ended the day on 231 for 7, the highest total of the series, but they might have struggled to make 200 had Imran Tahir not been in awful form. The two new bowlers in South Africa's XI, offspinner Dane Piedt and seamer Kyle Abbott, were incisive and displayed impressive stamina, taking four and three wickets apiece, and though Morne Morkel did not strike he offered control. Tahir, however, was bowled for only seven overs on the first day because he conceded 36 runs, serving up a buffet of full tosses and long-hops. The real damage to South Africa was in the overs Tahir could not bowl, because the rest were less threatening to face and easier to score off as they tired: Piedt bowled 34 overs, Morkel 17, and Abbott 17 for only 23 runs.
The only Indian batsman good enough to battle through the hard periods and cash in on the good times was Ajinkya Rahane, who achieved his maiden half-century in India in his seventh innings and was approaching a fifth Test hundred, when bad light ended play six overs before stumps. His brisk partnership of 70 with Virat Kohli steadied India after a top-order wobble, and his rear-guard stands with Ravindra Jadeja and R Ashwin ensured India survived the day. A first-innings total of 250 will prove challenging on this surface, especially if a team has four reliable bowlers to defend it.
Batting was difficult in the morning, when the ball was new and there was some moisture in the pitch, but Shikhar Dhawan managed to anchor India through the first session for the loss of only one wicket. He took 18 balls to score his first run. India scored only 6 in the first 30 minutes, and 16 in the first hour.
Abbott had figures of 8-3-11-0 in his first spell; the variable bounce made facing him trickier. One good-length ball to Dhawan passed the off stump a little above the knee. Another short-of-a-length delivery climbed on M Vijay and was collected by wicketkeeper Dane Vilas at head height, but the ball immediately after kept low, forcing a crouching defence from the batsman. Vijay was later smashed on the right elbow by one that rose from a length, and wrung his hand in pain.
Abbott had Vijay caught at slip in the 12th over but he had over-stepped, his foot erring by the smallest of margins. Vijay scored only two more runs, though, before he nicked a delivery from Piedt that drifted away from him but did not spin, to Hashim Amla at first slip.
In the third over after lunch, Piedt broke Dhawan's resistance with a classic one-two combo. The first ball drew Dhawan forward and spun away from the left-hander from around the wicket, passing the outside edge. The next delivery slid on with the arm, beating Dhawan's inside edge as he played for the turn, trapping him lbw. Abbott then found the gap between Pujara's bat and pad, the delivery angling in to uproot off stump after grazing the inside edge. India had gone from 60 for 1 to 66 for 3.
In the middle period of the second session, however, Rahane and Kohli batted superbly, putting away loose deliveries and taking frequent singles to ensure pressure did not build. Their 50-run partnership came off 67 deliveries and they looked set to cash in on South Africa's weak support bowlers, when Kohli suffered a freak dismissal.
Kohli slog-swept Piedt, making clean contact. Instead of racing to the boundary, though, the ball thudded into the thigh of the fielder at short leg and lobbed back up towards the pitch. The wicketkeeper Dane Vilas reacted quickly and dived forward, taking the catch at full length and ensuring that Temba Bavuma, who was hopping about in pain, had something to celebrate.
That wicket resulted in two more in quick time. Rohit Sharma was dropped at slip by Amla off Abbott on 0, but two balls later he tried to slog Piedt over deep midwicket, and got a leading edge to Tahir at long-on. Abbott then bowled Saha off the inside edge in the final over before tea, reducing India to 139 for 6. Rahane went into the break on 31 off 62 balls, having scored only one run off the 20 balls he faced since Kohli's dismissal.
India's best session was the one after tea, during which they scored 92 runs for the loss of Ravindra Jadeja. Rahane and Jadeja added 59 for the seventh wicket, and scored freely against a tiring Piedt. Rahane slog-swept and pulled the offspinner for a six and a four in one over to pass 50, while Jadeja punished loose deliveries from Tahir and Duminy.
South Africa had two moments of misfortune, too, after Jadeja was caught deftly by Dean Elgar at midwicket for 24. Ashwin was given not out when Piedt appealed for a bat-pad catch though the ball had brushed his glove, and then Rahane, on 78, was dropped by Amla at slip, capping a frustrating day in the field for the South African captain. Both those moments deprived Piedt of a fifth wicket, and allowed India to end the day in a far better position than they should have been.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo