BENGALURU: The norm in subcontinent, after winning toss, is to bat first and compile a huge total. India skipper Virat Kohli flouted the convention, and his able spinners Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja ensured it wasn’t a faux pas. For the third time in as many innings, the pair dismantled South Africa, picking up four wickets apiece, to seriously jolt their prospects of squaring the series here. To suggest there was nothing vicious on the surface, India’s openers knocked off 80 runs in just 22 overs to cap an utterly dominant day.
It might have been the overcast conditions and persistent rain over the last few days that prompted Kohli to break the template. At least initially, it seemed to backfire as the seamers hardly bargained any purchase out of the strip. But Kohli was unflustered, for he knew the spinners could do no wrong. And they did no wrong, with considerable aid from the fielders.
With his second ball of the day, Ashwin ejected left-handed opener Stiaan van Zyl, who played for non-existent turn to be nailed in front. Three balls later, he deceived Faf du Plessis with flight and dip, induced an inside edge, which was smartly pouched by Cheteshwar Pujara at short-leg.
Let you not assume the strip was a minefield. It had some cracks and grass but had no devil. It was as much a case of Indian spinners bowling guilefully as Proteas batsmen not showing the required technical adeptness. “The wicket was a little damp and that was the rationale to send them in first, I presume. In any case, there wasn’t much for the bowlers in it,” explained Ashwin.
South Africa coach Russell Domingo admitted as much: “It was a good pitch but we did not play well enough. It will be tough and we have work to do in the second innings.” Two down with just 15 runs on the board was a situation the visitors hadn’t bargained for, especially when trying to make a comeback in the series. The psychological battle had indeed begun. For a while, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla allayed fears of imploding with assured batting.
But Kohli then replaced Ishant Sharma with Varun Aaron, who accounted for the dangerous Amla. His first two overs had leaked 12 runs, but Kohli persisted with him and he reposed the skipper’s faith with the last ball of his third over. The seam of the ball suggested it was shaping in, but after pitching it seamed marginally away at top pace to beat Amla’s groping bat and uproot the stumps.
That brought AB de Villiers to the crease and the spectators were on their feet. Getting off the mark with four overthrows, he steadied the rocking boat with a useful stand with Elgar. With no further damages, they went for lunch.
But post lunch, they gave it away, with Jadeja joining the party with the wickets of Elgar and Dane Vilas. Between their exit, Ashwin dismissed JP Duminy. All this while, De Villiers demonstrated how to bat in these conditions before Jadeja denied him the rare distinction of scoring a century in 100th Test. Morne Morkel freewheeled to 22 runs off 20 balls, but their lower order could muster little else.