India 201 and 125 for 2 (Pujara 63*, Vijay 47) lead South Africa 184 (De Villiers, 63, Amla 43, Ashwin 5-51) by 142 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details.
The cries in the first hour were of frustration. India's spinners just could not find any rhythm and that spurred impatience. But from the final half hour of the morning session, those cries turned into cackles of joy. South Africa's most assured player, Hashim Amla, was dismissed for 43 and their most feared AB de Villiers carved 63. But seven single-figure scores from the rest meant R Ashwin, who returned from injury with 5 for 51, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra took the honours. India gained a lead of 17, but it was just slender enough not to be decisive. They had to bat well, and they did, to finish the day ahead by 142 runs.
M Vijay looked easy on the eyes and so runs, even on a stingy pitch, kept following him. He had made 47 off 105 balls before the substitute fielder Temba Bavuma snagged a diving, one-handed, horizontal-with-the-ground blinder to prevent what could have been the only wicketless session of the Test. Still, India's second wicket added 86 runs and the dominant partner Cheteshwar Pujara was unbeaten on 63 off 100 balls. The trick was in not allowing the bat to dangle away from the body while defending, and alternatively holding nothing back once the bad ball arrived. As Pujara demonstrated when he pulled an Imran Tahir long hop, the penultimate delivery of the day, for a six.
The architect of India's position in Mohali was Ashwin, though. He had led his team off the field at the innings break. He has 13 five-wicket hauls and 150 wickets now, in only his 29th Test. Only Sydney Barnes, Waqar Younis and Clarrie Grimmett have been quicker to the mark. So it is clear that the side strain he suffered in the ODI series has not led to a stutter in form. Meanwhile, South Africa's spearhead is under an injury cloud now. Dale Steyn picked up a groin injury and did not bowl today.
And considering that, it was poor that Shikhar Dhawan ended up bagging a pair on the same ground he hammered 187 on debut against Australia. The bowler was Vernon Philander, the ball was simply angled across, but Dhawan turned it into a wicket-taking one by flashing at it and India recorded their sixth single-digit opening partnership on the trot.
It is true that this is not the most straightforward pitch to bat on. Even a man of De Villiers' calibre could have been dismissed in five balls. Jadeja got one to turn and bounce to perhaps take the outside edge - it seemed like there was a noise as ball passed bat - but the umpire had enough doubt to rule against the appeal. Then in the 45th over, he definitely nicked one and it was caught on the rebound off the wicketkeeper's gloves by Virat Kohli at second slip but the bowler, Jadeja again, had overstepped; the fact was confirmed after several minutes of deliberation from the third umpire Vineet Kulkarni. The bowler's toes had landed, the heel had not, which is fine, but some part of the foot had to be behind the line. Nothing was. It appeared Jadeja had done it again when he had Philander edge to slip, but Kulkarni upheld that appeal.
De Villiers, at the other end, hit the spinners off their lengths with a flurry of sweeps and exploited angles that may not have been readily available to other batsmen. De Villiers collected six fours and maintained a strike-rate of 75. He was ninth man out, bowled by a peach of a legspinner from Mishra and India edged the lead.
That did not seem likely early on, though. South Africa were cruising towards possibly a wicketless morning session with Dean Elgar and Amla recording 76 runs off 176 balls. India may have taken the old adage about the first hour a little too seriously. They were trying too hard, as was their captain Kohli chopping and changing his bowlers around as frequently as his fields. Ashwin came on to bowl in only the ninth over of the day and Jadeja in the 13th. And that was the turning point. Ashwin tossed the ball up over the eyeline of the right-hander, pulling him to drive outside off, while Jadeja settled for natural variation - whether by turn, lack of turn or bounce. Orthodox cricket applied pressure and it was enough to undo a very stubborn South Africa batsman.
Amla is the kind of player who can turn up and turn it on. He did so without bat in hand yesterday, leading his bowlers, trusting his gut and giving India a taste of their own medicine. Today, he amped up the dosage with an assured 43 off 97 balls. Sometimes it seemed like the length the spinners were bowling did not even matter to him. He would keep back in his crease even against flighted deliveries and make the adjustment with his wrists. He would even drive through the covers with a whippy flourish as Jadeja found out in the 37th over. The firmness in his decision making and the softness of his defence were beautiful to watch.
Then came something that was bizarre to watch, which seems Amla's thing when he plays against India. He had once ducked into a bouncer and got bowled, and today, he chipped down the track, was beaten by Ashwin's flight and then stumped as the ball hit Wriddhiman Saha's chest and dropped onto the off bail.
Elgar played an innings that suggested he can handle rank turners. He likes to spend time at the crease at the cost of his strike-rate. He could even recover after being beaten in flight because of his use of soft hands and dead bat. It takes strong belief in one's technique to repel noted spinners like Ashwin and Jadeja with three or four men around his bat. And Elgar seems like a confident blocker. But just as he was getting into the groove, an overambitious stroke led to his downfall.
Elgar had begun the day with a powerful sweep shot with Mishra's leg spin and chose to repeat the same against Ashwin's offspin. The outside edge looped over the point where Jadeja held the simplest catch. One of the India fielders even chirped gleefully, "What a shot, man." Dane Vilas was another victim of the sweep with lunch minutes away. India had their belief restored, South Africa were pushed on to the back foot, and that was where they stayed.