India were 35-3 in pursuit of a record target of 287 at stumps on day four at Centurion.
South Africa are favourites to win from here, thanks to the aggressive batting by AB de Villiers before lunch and the combative efforts of Dean Elgar and Faf du Plessis. The Proteas have set India a relatively gargantuan task of breaking a stadium record to win this match to level the series.
No side has ever scored more than 251 runs in the fourth innings to win a Test at Centurion and India’s chances of becoming the first team to do so took a hit late on day four when Lungi Ngidi and Kagiso Rabada ripped through the top order, with the former claiming the prize scalp of Virat Kohli.
A lot’s been made of the conditions at Centurion over the past four days as India exploited the variable bounce late on day three when Jasprit Bumrah dismissed Aiden Markram and then Hashim Amla with deliveries that kept uncharacteristically low.
An hour into day four, Mohammed Shami got the ball to leap up from a length and catch the edge of De Villiers’ bat, which was the first time the batsman – on 80 at the point – appeared troubled. Parthiv Patel took the catch, and suddenly India had hope of turning things around – the De Villiers-Elgar partnership yielded 141 runs.
Shami was on fire during that first session as he took the wicket of Elgar, who attempted to flick the bowler behind square. Quinton de Kock was completely outplayed during his short stay at the crease, nicking Shami for three straight fours and then edging the fourth ball in the sequence to Patel.
Late on day three, Morne Morkel told the media that 250 would take some getting in these conditions and the Proteas consolidated after the loss of De Kock, as Du Plessis and Vernon Philander looked to steer the hosts closer to that figure.
The Proteas captain refused to be rushed as South Africa scored 57 runs in what was an extended second session. Du Plessis’ vigil – all 222 minutes of it – eventually came to an end after tea. The job was done, though, with Du Plessis contributing 48 and the Proteas stretching their lead beyond that 250-mark.
Du Plessis surprised us again when he asked Rabada to open the bowling along with Philander and the Indian batsmen attempted to play positively, but ultimately failed to adjust sufficiently to the deteriorating conditions. Murali Vijay looked to punch Rabada’s length delivery through the covers, but only succeeded in playing it back onto his stumps.
Ngidi struck with the first ball of his spell as Lokesh Rahul played an irresponsible shot off a seemingly innocuous ball outside off-stump – Keshav Maharaj took the catch at point.
There was no doubting the quality of the ball that got Kohli, though. The India skipper scored 153 in the first innings, and was one of the few batsmen who had adjusted well to the pitch. On this occasion, however, Ngidi got the ball to seam back into Kohli and strike the pad.
The inevitable review – Kohli was never going to accept the decision meekly – confirmed India’s worst fears: Kohli was stone dead.
India are in trouble as they don’t have much depth in their batting, with Rohit Sharma (due to come in at No 6) the last of the out-and-out specialists.
Ninety-eight overs will be bowled on day five. The Proteas’ five-prong attack should have enough time to claim those final seven wickets, win the game, and ultimately seal the series 2-0.
SA 335 (1st innings) – Aiden Markram 94, Hashim Amla 82, Ravi Ashwin 4-113, Ishant Sharma 3-46
India 307 (1st innings) – Virat Kohli 153, Murali Vijay 46, Morne Morkel 4-60, Vernon Philander 1-46
SA 258 (2nd innings) – AB de Villiers 80, Dean Elgar 61, Mohammed Shami 4-49, Jasprit Bumrah 3-70
India 35-3 (2nd innings) – Cheteshwar Pujara 11 not out, Lungi Ngidi 2-14, Kagiso Rabada 1-9
India need 252 runs to win
Photo: Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix
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