Player of the Match
Player of the Match

India fight back with three last-hour wickets

Cullinan: It's a hardworking pitch for both batsman and bowlers (1:07)

Daryll Cullinan and Raunak Kapoor dissect the nature of the Supersport Park surface, following the first day's play which witnessed a fair bit of assistance for offspinner R Ashwin (1:07)

South Africa 269 for 6 (Markram 94, Amla 82, Ashwin 3-90) v India
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

After all the talk of the pace and bounce of the Highveld, Centurion ended up providing India the most subcontinental conditions they could have expected on this tour. The skies were blue, the pitch was brown, and R Ashwin bowled the bulk of India's overs.

That could have been the extent of India feeling at home. For the first 80.4 overs of the day, South Africa's batsmen had pitched tents on this flat, friendly surface and pinned family photographs onto the canvas. Aiden Markram had fallen narrowly short of a hundred, but Hashim Amla looked all set to stroll past that milestone, and South Africa were 246 for 3.

And then, Centurion 2018 turned into Kolkata 2010. Amla and Alviro Petersen had scored centuries that day, only for South Africa to collapse from 218 for 1 to 296 all out, in a typically Eden Gardens post-tea collapse.

Here, South Africa lost three wickets for the addition of five runs, two of them to run-outs, and India, out of nowhere, were back in the game. They hardly deserved to be: Ashwin and Ishant Sharma apart, their frontline bowlers had been poor.

Deserve, however, has nothing to do with Test cricket; a few overs is all it takes, sometimes, for a match to swing 180 degrees.

It began, as it often can, with a moment of brilliance on the field. Amla got on his toes, rode the bounce of a short ball from Hardik Pandya, and tucked it gently into the on side. Faf du Plessis called for one, and Amla, after a moment's hesitation, responded. That moment was enough; Pandya sprinted across in his follow-through, swooped on the ball, spun around, and fired a direct hit at the bowler's end. Amla was gone, for 82.

In walked Quinton de Kock, a left-hander. Ashwin, from round the wicket, greeted him with a quick-turning offbreak in the channel outside off stump. New to the crease, de Kock pushed at it without really moving his feet and edged to slip.

All the swirling excitement and anxiety of the moment got to Vernon Philander, who ten minutes earlier would not have expected to put on his pads. A bunt into the leg side, and a mad dash to the other end despite his captain yelling at him to stay put cost him his wicket. South Africa were 251 for 6 and India flooded the stump mic with yelps of delight.

For most of the first eight-ninths of this day, India's voices had been muted. The first four South African wickets had added 85, 63, 51 and 47, indicative of an attack that seldom applied pressure from both ends, and a top order that batted with a great degree of comfort.

Playing only his seventh Test innings, Markram passed 50 for the fourth time, and looked a natural fit at this level. Taking guard on off stump, he stood tall and stood still at the crease, making no trigger movement and as a result remaining perfectly balanced. Time and again India's seamers slipped in the full, straight lbw ball in vain; Markram's head refused to fall across to the off side, and he punched and drove handsomely through the V, the area wide of mid-on proving particularly productive.

When the quicks dropped short, he punished them with punches and slaps through the covers and, on one occasion, a dismissive pull. The Saturday crowd at Centurion got to see all these shots frequently, since the fast bowlers, Ishant apart, kept feeding him boundary balls.

Jasprit Bumrah showed control with the new ball, but sprayed it around in all his subsequent spells, while Mohammed Shami, much like day one in Cape Town, was wayward and below top-pace with the new ball. Just when he seemed to be finding some rhythm and reverse-swing around an hour after lunch, Shami went off the field, looking a little under the weather. India's team management later clarified it was a "mild headache".

Bounce apart, there wasn't a whole lot of help for the seam bowlers, and perhaps this was why India went in with Ishant ahead of Bhuvneshwar Kumar, who had picked up 4 for 87 and 2 for 33 in Cape Town. Ishant responded impressively, coming on as first change and testing Dean Elgar's footwork and judgment with his angle, a bit of seam movement, and a fullish length that drew the left-hander forward.

Having fought his way through this spell, Elgar survived a testing period against Ashwin just before lunch, getting beaten twice in 10 balls, with India unsuccessfully reviewing for caught-behind on one occasion. Soon after lunch, Elgar stepped out and drove Ashwin back over his head - perhaps the shot of an anxious batsman looking to hit his tormentor off his length - but the next time he tried stepping out, he didn't reach the pitch of the ball and ended up stabbing a catch to silly point.

This was India's best period of play all day, with Ashwin finding dip and bounce at one end and Ishant bowling tightly at the other. These two couldn't keep bowling forever, however, and South Africa soon returned to free-scoring ways, with Amla turning the clock back with the wristwork on his flicks and back-foot punches. It took a change of angle for India to effect their next breakthrough, Markram edging Ashwin behind when he went around the wicket. The ball, angled across Markram, didn't spin back as much as he expected, but it was the length that did him, pinning him awkwardly to the crease - rather than going neither forward nor back, he was trying to do both at the same time - and making him jab away from his body.

AB de Villiers was busy right from the time he came in, unveiling the reverse-sweep to pick up a boundary off Ashwin when he was still in single figures, but there was a touch of looseness to his game as well. A jab away from his body at Bumrah resulted in an inside-edge that nearly trickled onto his stumps, and when he tried the same shot against Ishant after tea, he chopped on for 20. The ball had begun to keep low every now and then and this was a shot he could have avoided.

At that point, though, South Africa were still in too dominant a position to worry unduly. Amla was looking at his serene best, putting Shami away disdainfully when he kept dropping short in a brief post-tea spell, driving Ashwin against the turn with a twirl of his wrists, and, on 79, keeping out a shin-high shooter from Bumrah as if it was a perfectly normal delivery. Just when he looked set to coast to a century and beyond, however, a moment's hesitation brought India roaring back to life.

Unwanted run


Cheteshwar Pujara is the first India player to be run out twice in a Test. He's the 23rd overall and first since Stephen Fleming v Zimbabwe in December 2000.

Record chase needed


The highest run-chase at SuperSport Park in Centurion, which was by England in 2000. India are set a record target of 287 to chase. There have been only six successful chases at the venue and five of those have been by the home team.

Faf's feat


Runs for Faf du Plessis in Tests. Since his debut, only Amla has scored more runs for SA than du Plessis.

Going on and on


No. of century partnerships in this series. The one between De Villiers and Elgar is the biggest of the two, going past 114 added by De Villiers and Du Plessis in the last Test.

Captain steps up


No. of centuries by India captains in South Africa - Tendulkar (169) in Cape Town 1996-97 and Kohli in this Test.

Opening with spin


Last time a spinner opened the bowling for South Africa in the first innings - Aubrey Faulkner v Australia. SA opened with Keshav Maharaj in this Test.

Shami's century


Wickets for Mohammad Shami in Tests, becoming only the 7th India fast bowler to the milestone.

Spin in Centurion


Wickets for Ashwin so far, which is already 2nd-best for a spinner in the first innings of a Centurion Test; Swann's 5 for 110 in 2009 is the best. Ashwin's 31 overs is 3rd-highest by a spinner in the 1st inngs in Centurion

A first for de Kock


Number of ducks at home for de Kock in all international matches. He has 7 in away games - 3 in NZ, 2 in Ban, 1 each in Aus and SL - but this one in Centurion was his first in South Africa

A long time coming


Innings between two run-outs for Amla in Tests. The last time he was run out in this format was way back in November 2012, in Perth

Centurion's king


Previous most runs by a batsman at SuperSport Park in Centurion, by Jacques Kallis. Hashim Amla has gone past that mark.

Markram's home


Aiden Markram's average in last 6 innings in Centurion (his home ground) across all formats in last six innings, before this match. His scores have been: 161, 119, 87, 51*, 56*, 18*. He has got to another fifty in this innings.

Solid pair


No. of 50+ partnerships between Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar in 7 Test innings, including this innings. They average over 100 as a pair.

South Africa's den


Win-loss record for South Africa in Centurion, in 22 previous Tests. Their win-loss ratio of 8.50 at the venue is the second-best for any team playing 10+ Tests at a ground.