Taking India to a 320-run lead, centurion Cheteshwar Pujara (135*) and Virat Kohli (77*) had put India in a commanding position at stumps on Day 3. After their pacers bowled South Africa out for 244 early in the first session, the batsmen consolidated India’s position. Anchoring the innings, Pujara set the tone of the innings and found an able partner in Kohli. With an unbroken 191-run partnership, they had taken the visitors to 284 for two at the end of day’s play.
Earlier, in less than 10 overs on the third morning, India claimed the remaining four wickets to wrap up the South African innings to take a 36-run lead at the New Wanderers Stadium. Although Ishant Sharma conceded 10 runs off the first over of the day, he rediscovered his rhythm in the next over and kept the batsmen on their toes. Meanwhile, Zaheer Khan, continuing to bowl at the off-stump and outside it, tested the batsmen.
Vernon Philander, who had reached his half-century with a boundary off the pacer’s first ball of the day, was the first to be sent back. A good-length Zaheer Khan delivery took the edge of Philander’s bat and Ravichandran Ashwin took a low catch to give India their first breakthrough of the day. Two overs later, Rohit Sharma pouched a catch to send back Dale Steyn for 10 off Ishant.
Zaheer then claimed the last two wickets to finish with a four-wicket haul. One such outside-off-stump delivery bowled at good length had Faf du Plessis poking at it and he was caught by MS Dhoni. And in his next over, the experienced campaigner pegged back Morkel’s off-stump to mark the end hosts’ first innings.
The Indian openers – Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay – then added 23 runs for the first wicket, until Philander struck. He had Dhawan edge to the slips and Jacques Kallis at second slip pouched the catch. Cheteshwar Pujara then joined Vijay in the middle to extend the lead to 67 runs at lunch.
Resuming on 31 for one, the pair continued to take the innings forward at an unhurried pace. They chipped away at the bowling without taking too many risks. With Morkel not coming back on to the field after twisting his ankle while fielding just before lunch, Kallis was handed the ball. The senior all-rounder asked a few questions off the batsmen, but Pujara was able to hold up his end.
Kallis removed Vijay to give the home team their only wicket of the session. The opener got his bat on a ball going down the leg-side and de Villiers took a good catch diving to his left. With India on 93 for two, Virat Kohli made his way to the middle and Graeme Smith brought Dale Steyn back into the attack. With the composed Pujara at the other end, he helped India to 109 at tea. Seeking a breakthrough, Smith gave the last over of the second session to de Villiers – Hashim Amla kept wicket, while de Villiers bowled. The visitors had consolidated their position further and stretched the lead to 145.
Soon after tea, Pujara reached his 50, but in the following over, while on 51, Tahir dropped him off his own bowling. Scoring freely off JP Duminy and Tahir, Pujara and Kohli kept the scoreboard ticking. With Tahir continuing to bowl from one end, Smith reintroduced Philander into the attack and then brought back Kallis, but to no avail. Runs began to flow freely for India as the batsmen settled in. They milked the spinners in particular as they added to the total.
Kohli reached his 50 with a single a little before drinks. In the over after the break, Pujara drove Steyn through covers to post his first century in South Africa. Steyn continued to hit the deck hard, but the batsmen played him watchfully and scored off him when the opportunity presented itself.
Scoring at a quicker pace in the second half of his innings, Pujara routinely dispatched the ball to boundary with glorious strokeplay. The Pujara-Kohli pair did not let their guard down even as they garnered runs till stumps on Day 3.
The hosts will be playing the rest of the game without Morkel.