Sports India Checked

Virat Kohli in action during day one of the first Test match between South Africa and India at the Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town, South Africa Jan. 5, 2018. (IANS photo)

CAPE TOWN — India’s progress was checked late on Day 1 of the first test in South Africa Jan. 5, with the tourists 28-3 at stumps and 258 runs behind on a tough batting surface.

India lost both openers and captain Virat Kohli as it tried to limit the damage in the 11 overs faced before the close.

Top-ranked India had rattled South Africa’s batting lineup in the first skirmishes of a three-match series between test cricket’s top two teams. South Africa, which was 12-3 and in similar trouble at the start of the day, battled its way to 286 all out in its first innings.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s early blitz of seam bowling gave the Indians a promising start in another quest for a first series win in South Africa.

Kumar, who finished with 4-87, sent back Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla in the first five overs of the series-opener. A middle-order century stand between AB de Villiers (65) and Faf du Plessis (62), and a lower-order rally pushed the South Africans near to 300.

India’s batsmen also struggled on the green surface in Cape Town. Murali Vijay went for 1, Dale Steyn returned to test cricket for the first time in over a year to dismiss Shikhar Dhawa for 16, and Morne Morkel had Kohli for 5 with the first ball he bowled.

Cheteshwar Pujara, on 5 not out, and Rohit Sharma, yet to score, took India to the close.

“I would say it’s even,” Kumar said regarding the balance of power in the match.

Those 11 overs at the end of the day gave an early glimpse of the battle that’s predicted to define the series between the two teams: India’s vaunted batting lineup against South Africa’s fast bowlers.

The Proteas picked four of those quick bowlers for the opening test, allowing Steyn, out for over a year with a right shoulder problem, to join Vernon Philander, Morkel and Kagiso Rabada in the four-pronged pace attack.

Steyn had a wicket in his first spell back as Dhawan had a swipe at a short-pitched delivery and sent a catch swirling high up into the sky. Steyn took the catch off his own bowling.

India’s quicks had the first say, though, as Kumar exploited the generous bounce, swing and seam movement at Newlands that is normally designed to play into South African hands. He forced Elgar to edge behind with the third ball of the game, trapped Markram lbw with one that swung, and also had Amla caught behind.

South Africa was saved by de Villiers and du Plessis, and a solid contribution from its middle to lower order. Wicketkeeper-batsman Quinton de Kock hit 43 off just 40 balls, and the tailenders all chipped in.

“Obviously quite an intense day, but coming off after 6 o’clock, we are very happy,” South Africa batting coach Dale Benkenstein said. “The guys fought hard. Those runs down there at the bottom, especially in tough batting conditions, really are vital.”

Kumar was India’s best bowler, but debutant seamer Jasprit Bumrah and allrounder Hardik Pandya made two crucial breakthroughs after lunch. With the du Plessis-de Villiers partnership threatening to completely spoil India’s early progress, Brumah bowled de Villiers for a memorable first test wicket.

Pandya worked hard for du Plessis’ wicket, seeing an ultra-close leg before wicket decision turned down via the decision review system before, two balls later, he forced an edge behind to dismiss the South African skipper.

Du Plessis’ exit was greeted by a running, fist-pumping celebration by India skipper Kohli.

Kohli’s own dismissal at the end of the day, when he nicked a short ball from Morkel, provoked an equally rowdy celebration from the South Africans.

That intensity in the field may characterize a contest where India, clearly the best team in the world after nine straight test series victories, is under scrutiny as it almost always is to prove it can win big series away from home. Of those nine successive series wins for India, six of them have come in India, and just one has been achieved outside Asia.

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