It is often said that Test cricket in India crawls for three days with seemingly nothing happening before suddenly exploding to life. What happens when Tests do not last three days? Time frames get compressed. It was like Test cricket had gone asleep for one hour on the third morning. India lost eight wickets for 39 runs, and yet spun South Africa out to take a 1-0 lead. This was the fourth straight three-day finish in Tests in India. R Ashwin
continued his impressive bowling, Ravindra Jadeja
completed a successful comeback to the Tests with a five-for, and Amit Mishra
contributed with the big wicket of AB de Villiers again.
At effectively 178 for 2 on a pitch that had been turning big from day one, India looked home and dry. It took a big collapse for South Africa to be set a target they could think about chasing. Imran Tahir and Simon Harmer took four wickets each, but the task for South Africa was still enormous: only twice had visiting teams chased 200 successfully in India, most recently in 1987-88. South Africa needed to bat extremely well to add to that tally. They did not.
South Africa's mistrust of the pitch showed in their approach. The demons in their heads were bigger than the ones under their feet. Three of them got out even before the pitch could do a thing. Vernon Philander was promoted to open the innings. He survived two balls. Hashim Amla took guard outside leg, and left alone a straight delivery that hit middle and off. Both of them fell to Jadeja, who confirmed his reputation of being a dangerous bowler on a turning track, by bowling straight and quick. He showed the value of being able to hit the off stump on square turners.
Faf du Plessis overestimated an Ashwin offbreak with the new ball from round the wicket, and edged him to slip. It looked a set plan. He had bowled over the wicket to Philander before this dismissal, and over the wicket to Amla after it. Du Plessis read that it was on offbreak, but the ball didn't turn as much as he expected.
It was mayhem at 10 for 3, which de Villiers calmed down for a bit with his excellent use of feet and ability to punish anything loose. It is a mark of the threat he carries that India did not feel entirely comfortable until they had got rid of de Villiers. For the second time in the match Mishra did the job. This was a rare case of de Villiers' failing to pick the length as he went back to a length ball. A possible explanation could be the flat trajectory of the delivery, but Mishra does bowl that fuller flatter one, which turns only a little. What is more, it stayed low, and took the inside edge onto the stumps.
Only formalities were left after that. Spinners completed them duly with South Africa managing to bat out only 39.5 overs to go with 68 in the first innings, but Varun Aaron too contributed by drawing a big leading edge with a short ball to Dean Elgar. This was the first wicket taken by an Indian seamer, but South Africa, who do not have the luxury of the quality of Indian spinners, did have to rely on seam in the morning. India consolidated their position with 36 runs without loss in the first hour of the day, but South Africa conjured a breakthrough through part-time medium-pace of Stiaan van Zyl.
A major chunk of the collapse in a five-batsmen Indian team was the losing of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane for three runs. When you have three-day Tests, you often have batsmen falling for no mistake of their own, but all three made errors here. Except that they took longer to make these errors than the South Africa batsman. Kohli went driving outside off at a ball not full enough, and van Zyl and Amla looked like geniuses. South Africa now went to their spinners once Kohli had provided them with the opening.
Tahir began with a regulation legbreak first ball, Pujara went to defend, but was nowhere close to the pitch of the ball, allowing it to turn and take the edge. He had added 14 to his overnight 63. Rahane jabbed at a Harmer offbreak well in front of his body, and offered the acrobatic substitute Temba Bavuma a catch at short leg. Three wickets gone in four overs, India now looked to the lower order for some stability, but Tahir and Harmer got the better of them, which was expected on a pitch like this.