Not for the first time, quite a couple of the dismissals were avoidable, in spite of the early sting in the pitch. Rabada and Ngidi, having shed the rust and with overs under their belt, made the batsmen play more in conditions helpful for the bowlers. The shot selection from the Indians, however, wasn’t top notch.
It can be argued this was the first taste of the notorious South African pitch conditions everyone had been expecting. The day began with questions. Would the rain ensure a slowish surface? Wouldn’t the steep, spongy bounce be on view? Would the pitch quicken up, as it usually tends to on Day 3 in Centurion?
Rabada, sensing the drier conditions, the quickness, the slightly inconsistent bounce and carry, picked up his pace when he bowled the second over of the morning. Rahul continued from where he left off, ticking all the boxes which had brought him his century, allowing the ball to come to him, playing late and right under his eyes.
But Rabada’s second over made it clear that on this day, the bowler had the edge. He dug it in short into Rahul’s body. The batsman fended it off, barely. Rahul left the fuller length outside off alone, but the shorter deliveries seemed to skid off the surface. Sure enough, last ball of the over, Rabada had his man.
He banged one in short, down leg. Rahul went to guide the ball down fine leg and braced for a sort of swivel pull. India’s highest run-scorer in the innings managed only a tickle to De Kock.
Two overs and two balls later, it was Rahane who undid all the good work. Ngidi got him with the extra bounce as the batsman, eager to get to his half-century, went for the cut on the up and managed only a nick. It was an injudicious stroke for a batsman so desperate for runs.
Rishabh Pant, who flattered to deceive in England, jabbed and parried for a bit but if anyone expected him to knuckle down and carry the tail, it was not to be. The dismissal of Ashwin in the next over, the batter managing only a leading edge while looking to work Rabada through the on-side, upset Pant’s plans.
Three balls later, his confused stay was over, caught at short leg, inside edging one onto his pads as Ngidi celebrated his five-for.