| A dejected Virat Kohli, after being dismissed for 96, on Saturday |
Johannesburg: India seem close to a victory at the Wanderers, after South Africa went to stumps at 138/2 on the fourth day of the first Test on Saturday, with the hosts needing another 320 runs in their bid to chase down a world-record victory target of 458.
South Africa’s best hope looks to be to save the game, with Alviro Petersen (76) and Faf du Plessis (10) to resume on the fifth day. The latter promoted was promoted up the order to rest Jacques Kallis, who had bowled more than his usual quota of overs in India’s second innings.
Graeme Smith (44) put on an entertaining 108-run opening stand with Petersen in South Africa’s second innings before he was run out attempting a quick single, while Hashim Amla (four) was bowled leaving a delivery that crashed into his stumps for the second time in the match.
In Amla’s defence, the ball from Mohammed Shami was pitched short but never got above stump height, with the batsman ducking as the delivery whizzed past his face and into the wickets.
It is a sign of the variable bounce in the pitch that makes it difficult for the batsmen to trust their judgment and stacks the cards in India’s favour going into the final day.
“You are never in on this kind of wicket, so you have to choose the right balls and you need to be in the right zone to actually put those boundary balls away,” Indian batsman Virat Kohli told reporters.
Du Plessis batted for seven hours and faced 376 balls in scoring a century on debut against Australia to save the game for the Proteas in November last year, and they will be hoping for similar spirit here to ensure they go into the second match of the two-Test series in Durban, starting on December 26, all square.
There was history made late in the day, when MS Dhoni brought himself on to bowl two overs, making this the first Test in which both wicketkeepers have taken the ball after AB de Villiers did likewise in India’s second innings.
Dhoni had also bowled during the Lord's Test in July 2011. In the absence of pace spearhead Zaheer Khan, the India skipper had bowled his gentle medium-pace stuff after lunch on the second day of the first Test against England. His bowling allowed the other pacers Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar some respite.
South Africa had earlier toiled hard in the field a bowler short, with Morne Morkel’s ankle ligament injury meaning he did not feature. They dismissed India for 421 in their second innings as Cheteshwar Pujara top-scored with 153.
Kohli missed out on the chance to become just the fourth Indian batsman to score a century in each innings of a Test when he was out for 96.
Had he added the four extra runs, he would have joined Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and Rahul Dravid on the list of those who have achieved the feat.
Kohli was angry with himself at the manner of his dismissal, but the shot was on as he sought to cut an innocuous delivery from off-spinner JP Duminy to the point boundary, but instead nicked a thin edge to wicketkeeper de Villiers.
Vernon Philander continued his fine match as he took three for 68, while Kallis, called into action more than usual due to Morkel's injury, did not disappoint as he claimed identical figures.
South Africa's assistant coach, however, sounded confident after day's play on Saturday.
“We have been cornered before… We have chased down big targets before. There is confidence among the players. Unfortunately, there was a bit of misjudgement on the part of Graeme Smith. He thought there was a run, but Ajinkya Rahane threw the ball pretty quickly and it was a direct hit.
“That’s unfortunate. Then again the timing of Hashim Amla's wicket was unfortunate for us. He got out to a ball that didn’t bounce the way he would like.
“You don’t expect that on the fourth and fifth day of a Test match. One down would have been fine for us. But two down is also okay. There’s still a lot of batting left in this Test match.”