In a test series that had not yet seen a team score more than 215, the final test between South Africa and India began with an ironic twist – the DDCA’s felicitation of Virender Sehwag and the naming of the two ends of the Kotla after two of his epic knocks, 319 and 309. Play began from the Viru 319 End as India opted to bat on a sluggish wicket (never has any captain opted to bowl after winning the toss at the Kotla) and scoring proved difficult with uneven bounce and superb discipline from Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott. Abbott in fact was unlucky not to get Murali Vijay out after he was caught at slip, when the delivery was ruled a no ball after a review.
But recalled spinner Dane Piedt got them the breakthrough as Vijay edged to Amla at slip. Amla’s sharp catch carried no omens for what was to come later – the captain would drop Rohit Sharma (who would replay the mistake with interest and perish to an ill advised slog) and then crucially, Ajinkya Rahane, later on in the day. Surrounded by smog, Indian batsmen seemed to approach the pitch with a foggy mindset, not sure whether to go forward or back and Abbott and Piedt (who bowled two long spells) took full advantage striking after lunch.
Even when they did get going, like Virat Kohli did with some free flowing strokes, luck negated the advantage as a ricochet off short leg fielder Travis Bavuma turned Kohli’s full blooded slog sweep into a spectacular catch for Dane Vilas, easily the Protea keeper’s highlight of the series. India slipped to 139/6 by tea, Saha dragging one on to his off stump at the stroke of the afternoon break. But the fight back would come from the man patiently holding the other end up and in desperate need of a good innings on home soil, Ajinkya Rahane.
Rahane showed patience and application on a typically tricky Kotla track and then sprung free after tea bringing up his fifty with back to back boundaries and looking better by the minute (except for one bit of lapse of concentration that went unpunished because Amla grassed his catch) to end the day unbeaten at 89 and within sight of this series’ first hundred. Ravichandran Ashwin kept him good company as India ended the day at 231/7 having plundered almost a 100 runs in the final session before the sun lost the battle against the smog and play was called off with 5 overs to go.
It was a good see sawing day of test cricket, a refreshing break from the wicket fests of the earlier games, but a lot of the narrative of the test match rests on how South Africa approach their batting on a pitch that will keep getting slower. Maybe like the man after whose knocks the ends of the ground are now named, they should just go out and seize the initiative and take the track out of the equation.