CENTURION, South Africa — South Africa ground its way to 90-2 and a lead of 118 over India in the second test Jan. 15, increasing the possibility that Virat Kohli’s 153 wouldn’t be enough to save his team’s winning run.
AB de Villiers was 50 not out for South Africa, and Dean Elgar 36 not out at Centurion, where the test and series started to seep away from India on an afternoon when a thunderstorm interrupted play and bad light caused an early end — to the dismay of the Indians.
At stumps, South Africa still had eight wickets left in its second innings and will be targeting a lead of 250 at least, which previous statistics show is difficult to chase in the fourth innings at SuperSport Park.
Should India fail to win, it would end a run of nine straight series victories for the top-ranked team in the world. South Africa already leads 1-0 in the three-match contest between test cricket’s top two teams.
Whatever the doubts over India’s No. 1 ranking, there were none over the class of Kohli, whose 21st test century was a blend of grit and attacking intent and almost single-handedly took his team to 307 all out and just 28 behind South Africa’s first-innings score of 335. The next best score by an Indian batsman was 46, by opener Murali Vijay.
“Virat’s innings was very crucial for us, it brought us back into the game,” India seam bowler Jasprit Bumrah said. “It’s always good that your captain is leading from the front.”
And while India continues to struggle in big series away from home, 11 of Kohli’s 21 test tons have been made outside India.
He hit 15 fours at Centurion, faced 217 balls, and was at the crease for over six hours in an effort to drag his team back into the contest.
Having arrived at 28-2, Kohli was the last man out a day later when he miscued a drive off fast bowler Morne Morkel and was caught at mid-on by de Villiers. His innings lifted India out of early trouble, saw it through another slump at 164-5, and nearly took India into the lead for the first time in this series.
It was the India captain’s fourth test century in his last seven test innings.
But Kohli’s frustration has also been apparent through the series, both in the field and while batting. In this test he has regularly thrown his arms in the air at a missed catch or a poor piece of fielding from a teammate.
On Monday, he tossed his bat to the floor when batting partner Hardik Pandya was run out for 15 for the day’s first wicket and a crucial breakthrough for South Africa. Pandya carelessly failed to ground his bat despite it being over the crease when a throw by Vernon Philander crashed into the stumps.
“Virat is very competitive ... that’s his nature,” Morkel said. “It gets him going and keeps him going. But we don’t take any notice.”
Kohli’s only real help on the third day came from Ravichandran Ashwin, who hit seven fours in his 38 and stuck around with Kohli for nearly 15 overs in a partnership of 71 for the seventh wicket. When Ashwin went to an edge to South Africa captain Faf du Plessis at slip off the bowling of Philander, Kohli’s reaction was to slam his bat into his pad at the non-striker’s end.
India’s hopes did briefly brighten before the rainstorm when Bumrah took two early wickets in South Africa’s second innings, removing Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla for 1 each inside the first six overs to have the Proteas in deep trouble at 3-2.
De Villiers and Elgar settled South Africa either side of the thunderstorm, though, taking the lead past 100. The gloom set in again for the Indians, who were unhappy that play resumed so soon after the rain on a damp outfield that apparently resulted in a wet ball. The tourists also thought the umpires took them off too soon for bad light, just when the ball started beating the bat.
“It’s OK,” Bumrah said. “We wanted to carry on but we were doing as we were told.”
A lead in excess of 250 would be tough for India to face up to and could prove to be series-winning for South Africa.
The highest fourth-innings score at Centurion is 251-8 by England in 2000, although that was in the discredited test where both teams forfeited innings at the suggestion of South African captain Hansie Cronje.
After that, England’s 228-9 in 2009 is the next highest.