Why did India delay taking the new ball? And why did Shami bowl only one over in the middle session? Here's Sidharth Monga's take on those questions and others.
Why did Mohammed Shami - who took three wickets in the morning session - bowl just one over in the second session?
Shami had bowled seven overs for 26 runs and three wickets in the first session, keeping India alive in the contest. South Africa's lead at lunch was 201 with five wickets in hand. To stay in the contest, India needed to roll South Africa over. You would have wanted to see the bowlers likeliest to take wickets bowl more, but India went for control instead, bowling Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya for long spells. India managed to keep the runs down, but took just the two wickets in that session. One of the reasons could be the fear of letting South Africa run away with a big lead. Also, Shami is not known for his control; his spell in the morning had been an aberration to his series form and high economy rate.
Shami said that perhaps the captain wanted to give him a break, wait for a breakthrough and then unleash him once a wicket was taken. However, Shami bowled just the one over in the session.
Why was the fifth bowler, Hardik Pandya, given an extended spell in the second session?
It was a slow pitch, and looked flat for long spells of play. Pandya bowled from the Pavilion End, which didn't offer much help for the fast bowler. R Ashwin wasn't taking wickets from that end either, and there was a possible risk of a batsman opening up against spin. Pandya bowled offcutters with control from that end as Ishant took two wickets from the Hennops River End. Pandya's spell of 7-1-9-0 looks good on paper, but whether it did the job - the one required in that hour - is still up for debate.
Why was R Ashwin bowled from just one end, the Pavilion End, through the innings?
Even Keshav Maharaj has bowled only from the Pavilion End so far. There was a patch of rough to work with from that end, but equally important was the uneven bounce on offer for a fast bowler's hard length from the other end. Bumrah benefited from it with the wickets of Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla, and Kagiso Rabada and Lungi Ngidi made full use of it too. When you are playing four fast bowlers in your side, it is expected you will give them the choice of ends on what has largely been an unhelpful pitch for them.
Having said that, Ashwin did bowl one over from the other end, but that is only because tailender and left-hand batsman Kagiso Rabada was on strike at the start of that over. That strategy did not help India.
Why was the second new ball not taken?
The most contentious of all moves. South Africa were 225 for 7, a lead of 253, when the new ball became available. The new batsman, a No. 9, had not even opened his account yet. This was the time India could have looked to close the innings rapidly, but Faf du Plessis was still at the wicket and the new ball has the potential to fly around for runs. India obviously felt they were keeping South Africa under pressure by not giving them quick runs, but as it turned out South Africa were slowly batting them out of the game. It was perhaps lack of experience that India didn't recognise how desperate the situation was in the afternoon. It was a move reminiscent of India not taking the new ball in the Durban Test of the last trip, hoping to delay South Africa's declaration instead of cutting down the runs by taking wickets.
Why was the first slip so wide?
First things first. When Parthiv Patel failed to go for the Dean Elgar catch, the first slip was not too wide. It was almost a regulation first slip, and the wicketkeeper should have gone for the catch with his big gloves on. Later when you saw the staggered slip cordon, it was a reaction to a slow pitch.
On such a track, one needs catchers in front of the wicket too, but one also tries to cover as much space possible behind it. The result? Get two men to take on the area that three slips would normally cover.