Kohli's 85* keeps South Africa's attack at bay
India 183 for 5 (Kohli 85*, Vijay 46) trail South Africa 335 (Markram 94, Amla 82, du Plessis 63) by 152 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
An aggressive unbeaten 85 from Virat Kohli led India's response to South Africa's 335, but South Africa kept chipping away at the other end to end the second day firmly in front. Fighting against a five-man attack that hardly ever let up the pressure, India went to stumps trailing by 152, with only five wickets in hand. Kohli was still at the crease, and with him was the combative Hardik Pandya, their sixth-wicket partnership worth 19.
On a pitch that didn't offer a great deal of bounce or seam movement, Kohli put South Africa under pressure by trusting in his subcontinental method of taking a big stride forward and trying to score quickly off good-length balls. According to ESPNcricinfo's ball-by-ball data, he scored 47 runs off 51 "good-length" balls from the fast bowlers. His cover drives, as always stood out, but there were a couple of gorgeous straight-bat punches past the bowler too.
For all that, he did not succeed in shifting South Africa away from their length. To Kohli, the four quicks bowled 41 balls just short of a good length, conceding 14 runs off them, and only eight balls that were either "full" or "short". Those numbers summed up how well they bowled.
Yet, the conditions were the most subcontinental India could have hoped for on this tour, and a couple of sizeable top-order partnerships could have put South Africa under serious pressure. Instead, India gifted them a couple of soft early wickets, back-to-back, and a third after their only major partnership, 79 between Kohli and M Vijay for the third wicket.
In a series notable for the volume of the stump mics in the TV broadcast, two Kohli comments and their aftermath summed up India's day.
First, as tea approached, he yelled out to Vijay, in chaste and not-entirely-repeatable Hindi, that South Africa would be extremely worried if their partnership were to extend deep into the evening. This was true. Vijay was batting with a certain degree of comfort against the fast bowlers, and, having overcome a slightly iffy start, was defending and leaving vigilantly.
Then, after tea, he grew a little loose against the left-arm spin of Keshav Maharaj. It's a feature of Vijay's game, a tendency to drop his guard against spin after focusing hard against pace. Time and again, he kept trying to cut balls from Maharaj that were neither short enough nor wide enough. On 46, the inevitable happened, and a top-edged cut settled inside Quinton de Kock's gloves.
Given India were only playing five specialist batsmen, the difference between 107 for 2 and 107 for 3 was significant. Especially when South Africa's attempts to find reverse-swing were beginning to bear fruit.
Kagiso Rabada came back into the attack immediately after Vijay's dismissal, and his first ball was a sign of what was to come - a back-of-a-length ball in the corridor that reared up and seamed away to beat Kohli's outside edge.
Over after over, Rabada kept hanging the ball outside off stump, getting it to move away from the right-hander, testing their patience, and making them wonder when the inswinger would come. Towards the end of the fourth over of his spell, Kohli yelled out to Rohit Sharma, "Aur nahin dalega, chautha over hai! [he won't bowl any more, it's his fourth over!]"
Rabada kept going, eventually sending down two more overs. The inswinger arrived twice either side of Kohli's yell, both delivered at the perfect moment, with perfect control, after dragging his prey across the crease. Both produced big lbw shouts. Kohli was adjudged not out, and South Africa lost a review on height; Rohit was given out, and India retained a review but lost a wicket, with ball-tracking returning an umpire's call verdict on height.
There was no real pressure release when Rabada's spell ended. Lungi Ngidi, the debutant, replaced him with no major loss in pace or wicket threat. An inside-edge saved Kohli when a full ball pinged him on the front pad, mid-shuffle, but Parthiv Patel, who scored 19 in a fifth-wicket stand of 32, had no such luck when he nicked a lifter in the corridor - an excellent way for Ngidi to pick up his first Test wicket.
It wasn't Ngidi's first major intervention of the day. In the tenth over of India's innings, he had moved swiftly to his right from mid-on, picked up, turned around, and fired a direct hit at the bowler's end to find a diving Cheteshwar Pujara short of his crease while going for a suicidal single off the first ball he faced. This ball came right after Morne Morkel had dismissed KL Rahul, whose leaden-footed push at a full ball only succeeded in spooning a return catch. India had gifted South Africa two early wickets.
In the morning session, a half-century from Faf du Plessis had helped South Africa add 66 to their overnight total for the loss of their four remaining wickets. A rash of missed chances - including two dropped catches off R Ashwin off successive balls to let off Rabada - frustrated India somewhat during a 42-run eighth-wicket stand between du Plessis and Rabada, but they created enough chances in an improved bowling performance for the let-offs to not cost them too much. Ishant Sharma ended up with three wickets, and Ashwin - who wrapped up the innings with the wicket of Morkel for the sixth time in six Tests - with four.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo