Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Cheteshwar Pujara struck solid half-centuries to extend India’s lead to 246 runs at tea on day four of the first Test against South Africa in Visakhapatnam on Saturday (October 5).
India needed to force the pace in the extended afternoon session to set an improbable target for South African on day five.
The home team scored 140 runs in the second session in 34 overs, courtesy an unbeaten 154-run stand between Rohit (84 off 118) and Pujara (75 off 139) to be at 175 for one at the break. Rohit, who scored a hundred in the first innings as a Test opener, was on course of reaching the three-figure mark for the second time in the game.
While the stylish opener played in his usual fashion and kept the scoreboard ticking, Pujara found the going tough in the initial part of his innings in which he scored just eight runs off 62 balls.
However, after the first drinks break of the session, he went on the offensive. He stepped out to the spinners more often than not and other times he kept them guessing. Thinking Pujara will dance down the wicket again, offie Dane Piedt dropped one short and Pujara stayed back to pull it over deep midwicket for a rare six.
Before that, he collected four boundaries off Keshav Maharaj to push up the scoring rate. The luck was also on Pujara’s side as Kagiso Rabada found the outside edge of his bat in the same over but on both occasions the ball landed between first slip and wicketkeeper before running to the boundary.
Rohit too was fortunate when Senuran Muthusamy caught him at long-on but while reviewing, it was found that he touched the boundary rope while releasing the ball for a legitimate catch on the second attempt.
Pujara, who hit 13 fours and a six, survived a close DRS call on the last ball before the break. The sun stayed away for the major part of the two-hour 30-minute session and play took place under floodlights
South Africa ended their innings at 431 all out. The last two wickets from the Proteas added crucial 55 runs to their total.
South Africa, resuming the day at 385 for eight, batted for 13.2 overs in the morning and scored valuable 46 runs, courtesy debutant Senuran Muthusamy, who remained unbeaten on 33 off 106, and Kagiso Rabada, who hit three welcome boundaries in his 15-run cameo.
India batted for close to an hour in the morning session and were 35 for one at lunch in 14 overs.
Keshav Maharaj dismissed first innings double centurion Mayank Agarwal (7) with a classical left-arm spinner delivery which turned and bounce enough to take the edge for a simple catch at first slip.
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The oddball may be turning sharply and keeping low but the pitch still remains a good one for batting.
India will have to score at a brisk rate to post a secured target for South Africa and give enough time to their bowlers to bowl out the opposition on day five.
The hosts would have been better placed if they did not allow South African tail to get some handy runs in the first hour of play.
The 10th wicket stand between Muthusamy and Rabada fetched 35 runs.
Ravichandran Ashwin (7/145), who picked up his 27th five-wicket haul on Friday, added two more to his tally to end the innings with 349 Test scalps.
Maharaj (9 off 31) was caught in the deep after he tried to hit Ashwin out of the park. The last man to be dismissed was Rabada, who missed a slider from Ashwin to be adjudged leg before wicket.
(With inputs from agencies)