“Not only did he annoy the fielding side with his prolonged stay, he also rubbed salt on their wounds by playing an array of breathtaking shots, much to the horror of the Indian batters, who have hardly looked comfortable on the tour”.
“I think this is one of the toughest pitches that I have played on. The total of 187 which we have now, as good as scoring 300 runs on any wicket.”
After taking 54 balls to get off the mark, Cheteshwar Pujara acknowledged the tough conditions that were on offer at the Wanders in Johannesburg on Day 1 of the third and final Test match between India and South Africa. On a green wicket, none of the Indian batsmen provided any resolve for a fight, sans skipper Virat Kohli and Pujara, and with their dismissals, the Indian lower order catapulted for a mere 187 runs. With Aiden Markram falling to Bhuvneshwar Kumar just moments before stumps on the first day, the Indian team walked out to the field fresh and raring to go on in the new morn.
First up, the aim would be the wicket of Kagiso Rabada. The night watchman, with a batting average of less than 13 before this game was hardly suspected to be a thorn in India’s flesh. The grander plan was to dismiss the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis early on, to attain a sizeable lead that would help the Kohli-led team to snatch a face-saving win in the series. What major harm could the young bowler do? The pitch was already very tough to bat on and it was well assumed that Rabada would be unable to survive through the tricky first hour on Day 2, something which even a specialised batsman Dean Elgar failed to do. In the first half hour, Elgar tried unsuccessfully to put bat on ball while Bhuvi kept beating the outside edge, eventually picking him up for 4 runs that had been scored in 40 balls.
Along with Ishant Sharma, the duo constantly kept troubling the pair of Rabada and Amla, with the former especially finding it tough to manoeuvre the outside off deliveries that were being bowled at him. But as the innings progressed, the 22-year-old started displaying the same determination that has made him a successful bowler for his side; hardly letting the tight line and length distract him from a spirited performance.
He was intent in avoiding all deliveries that were pitched short and outside off. He was content in leaving the deliveries that would not trouble his stumps, providing a great lesson to Murali Vijay- who has been dismissed on all five occasions in the series either trying to pull or drive deliveries that should be left alone. For a while, it was almost impossible to distinguish whether the senior batsman Amla was supporting the bowler or vice versa! Such was his control and his restraint; his will and his grit to go on and not give away his wicket so easily.
Not only did he annoy the fielding side with his prolonged stay, he also rubbed salt on their wounds by playing an array of breathtaking shots, much to the horror of the Indian batters, who have hardly looked comfortable on the tour. He flicked Jasprit Bumrah towards mid-on for a stylish stroke and followed it up with a square drive off the bowling of Mohammad Shami. The two flicks down the leg side off Bumrah, which were aesthetically completed with the batsman lifting his legs while going for the shots, suggested the nonchalance with which he batted and the superb drive over extra cover off Bhuvi further strengthened his stronghold on the Indian bowlers.
The 64-run partnership between the duo in 17.3 overs took South Africa closer to the target and when Rabada fell for 30 after facing 84 deliveries, the cricketing realm woke up to applaud the fine efforts of a young man on a tough, slow wicket. More importantly, the innings, coupled with Bhuvi’s batting feats in the series have gone on to express that conditions and pitches matter for little if the mental determination to stay on the wicket and to avoid the rash shots are present. Through his batting, the young bowler imparted an invaluable lesson to the Indian side. Lessons of carrying along mental toughness and self-belief; of playing sensibly and maturely and as he walked back, the sparse crowd stood up to applaud just that.