A day that started with India calling the shots, developed into another batting fiasco with Rishabh Pant trying the outrageous and the bowlers struggling to find their stride. It was a rare day in the recent history of Indian Test cricket where their pace quartet faltered.
After the Indian bowlers managed to bundle out South Africa for a paltry lead on the second day of the Test, the Indian batting was off to a shaky start as they lost both their openers early. The onus fell on the shoulders of Rahane and Pujara whose recent records have been highly questionable.
With Kohli out of the equation, the duo had to pull off something significant to give India a fighting chance. The couple started on a positive note and played a few decent strokes to see off the remainder of the day without losing a wicket.
As India entered day 3, the partnership between two of India’s supposedly best Test middle-order batters had to continue. They didn’t disappoint either as they played a few good strokes and looked solid in the middle. The two stitched a painstaking stand of 111 for the third wicket with both of them firing a half-century much to the relief of their fans.
However, once the partnership was broken, it was a show of desperate resilience by the hero of Sydney, Hanuma Vihari as he weathered the Proteas tempest with minimal help from the other end. Ashwin scored a quickfire 16 while Shardul Thakur racked up 28 runs.
As India has their task cut out for day 4, we will take a quick look at the talking points of the third day of the Johannesburg Test that is still very much in the balance considering the fact that the surface has something for all.
The herculean stand between Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara
The duo of Rahane and Pujara has been at the receiving end of severe flak of late. They have failed to perform to the heightened expectations that have been strapped onto them.
As India teetered along the fringes of a collapse on Day 2, Rahane and Pujara had to pull off something extraordinary from keeping the hosts swarming over them, at bay. The first glimpse of brilliance came from the bat of Pujara when he charged down the pitch against a towering Marco Jansen and crunched him through the covers for a boundary.
Rahane pulled off a similar feat in the very next over as he walked up to Kagiso Rabada’s barreling bullet and just opened the face of his blade to usher the ball through the covers.
What started off as a revolution against the formidable hosts soon blew through the roofs for the Indian fans as their favourite middle-order duo in Test cricket managed to strike back and it came when India needed it the most.
It was an absolute treat for the fans to witness Rahane and Pujara play those perfect cricketing shots effortlessly, conjuring glorious memories of India’s preceptor, Rahul Dravid.
When Pujara completed his half-century against Duanne Olivier, the entire dressing room stood up to applaud it. It may have just been a fifty but for a man who has always been compared to the icon of Test cricket, Rahul Dravid, this was his salvation.
At the other end of the crease, Rahane was spreading his own reign of dominion as he played comfortably with a belligerent undertone to his brilliant half-century and helped India climb out of the initial mess. Even though their dismissal came back to haunt India at the end of their innings, yet the duo seemed like poetry in motion.
Hanuma Vihari’s fighting 40
Probably in the context of the scorecard, the knock of Vihari won’t really grab all the eyeballs that you would want it to. However, this man stood like a solid rock in front of an ever-shifting cyclone of the brutal African pace.
Rabada, Ngidi and Jansen, all tried their luck to make him come undone with their nasty speed but he simply refused to budge and the boundaries played by him were neat and a treat for the eyes to behold.
More importantly, his knock came at a time when the batters at the other end had blood on their mind and for some weird reason wanted to score faster than one usually does in Test cricket.
He rekindled glimpses of the very special Laxman who would bat his heart out with the tail at the other end. It was his 40 that provided those much-needed late runs to achieve a target that still promises a winning horizon.
Dean Elgar’s tryst with greatness continues
The South African skipper is in the form of his life as he once again played out a phenomenal knock of 46 to put the hosts in the driver’s seat at the end of the day.
After his bowlers managed to tumble India early, South Africa needed a decent start. With Aiden Markram going after the bowlers, someone had to drop the anchor and Elgar once again did it successfully.
He took his time, played 121 balls and stayed unbeaten for 46 runs that comprised only a couple of boundaries. The level of patience that the South African skipper showed in his exploits was of the highest order.
He would simply not open the face of his blade and forged some incredible strokes against the fearsome fast-bowling quartet of India.
It was his resilience that helped the hosts keep themselves alive and then slowly creep into the driver’s seat without India having a single clue.
Day 4 will definitely mark the end of the contest unless Rain Gods play spoilsport at Johannesburg. India will have their task cut out as they will need early wickets if they have to keep any hope of sealing the series tomorrow.
With the track showing signs of flattening with every passing ball, Indian bowlers will have to pull off something extraordinary if they are to create history in South Africa.