South Africa squeeze in the bad amidst all the good

It looked good. Five fast bowlers on a green top under cloud cover at the Wanderers, allowed first use of conditions by the opposition captain.

It looked so good. The first ball Vernon Philander - in his 50th Test - delivered pitched on off stump and snuck between KL Rahul's bat and pad before he had decided whether he was going to play at it or not.

It looked so, so good as Philander produced ball after ball that wobbled off the seam, that moved slightly and beat the bat in an exceptional opening spell.

The figures look so good: 8-7-1-1. The highlights reel looks so good: Rahul caught behind off the inside-edge, Cheteshwar Pujara watching the ball from outside off veer towards first slip; Pujara preparing to defend and then realising the ball had flirted with the outside-edge but not touched it; Pujara again, surviving the delivery of the day, that curled into him after pitching on fifth stump. Morne Morkel and Kagiso Rabada, from the other end looked so good as they made the made the ball veer up from just short of a good length and struck a few body blows. At the first drinks break, with India 19 for 2, South Africa would have been feeling so good.

But after the good, came some bad.

India were 27 for 2 and under the pump when Virat Kohli pulled too early and sent an entirely catchable chance Philander's way, to mid-off. Somehow, Philander got it wrong. Kohli had only scored 11 at that stage and South Africa knew the importance of getting him early. They would have known the mistake could prove costly; they would not have known that it was the first of several.

AB de Villiers showed he is human too when he put down Kohli on 32, anticipating the ball earlier than it came to him and denying Morkel reward for a challenging post-lunch spell.

Philander was guilty again when he overstepped for the ball that Ajinkya Rahane edged to Quinton de Kock, in an over in which he bowled a series of beautiful away-seamers.

And then there were the half-chances, the balls that didn't carry or that were just out of reach of fielders. Substitute fielder Theunis de Bruyn was in the wrong position twice: too close-in at third man when Mohammed Shami top-edged a cut, and too far back at mid-on when Shami mistimed a pull. Shami had another stroke of luck when he drove in the air but the ball didn't carry to mid-on.

South Africa did not pay too dearly for any of the errors individually but, collectively, it was the difference between dismissing India for under 150, maybe even under 130, and allowing them to get over 180.

It still looks pretty good with India all out for 187 before the first day has ended and a selection of sexy seam bowling to admire. You have to give it to South Africa: they bowled some terrific deliveries, and it wasn't just Philander. The bounce Kagiso Rabada extracted when he found the shoulder of Kohli's bat and the bouncer that followed, the way Lungi Ngidi forced Pujara to play after pitching it full from wide of the crease only to threaten the outside edge, and the result Andile Phehlukwayo got when he managed to land the ball seam up and foxed Pujara were all examples of South Africa's skill on a surface that suited their attack.

What they may regret was lacking the same sharpness in the field, especially after Faf du Plessis promised South Africa were not going to take their foot off the gas. They may not have intended to, but perhaps they did. Just a little. And it has put them in a position in which they may look vulnerable.

South Africa have already lost one opener, and their best batsman has a finger injury. De Villiers suffered bruising on the right middle finger when he caught a ball that came at him like a rocket and felled him as he grabbed it. He is expected to bat but conditions are only going to get tougher.

There are cracks that the ball is deviating off and the bounce is already up and down according to Phehlukwakyo, whose advice to batsmen is to try and get going quickly. "You've got to be really positive and look to score," he said, optimistically adding that it would only really get treacherous to bat on day four and five but admitting that it "already getting quite difficult".

It does not look good for the batsmen for the next few days, but it does look good for bowlers, and with ten fast bowlers in the mix, there will be plenty more emphatic deliveries on display. The only thing that will look good to South Africa on Thursday is getting past 187, even if they have to get there with some ugly strokes.