The much-vaunted Indian top order struggled yet again against quality fast bowling as the visitors stared at a series defeat at the close of the fourth day in the second cricket Test against South Africa in Centurion on Tuesday. Chasing 287 for a win, which will be the highest ever at this venue if successful, Murali Vijay (9), Lokesh Rahul (4) and captain Virat Kohli (5) were dismissed cheaply in the final session of the day as India were reduced to 35 for 3 from 23 overs at stumps. (MATCH HIGHLIGHTS)
Debutant Lungi Ngidi grabbed the wickets of Kohli and Rahul while Kagiso Rabada dismissed Vijay to rock the Indian second innings and place South Africa in a commanding position of clinching the three-match series with one Test to go in Johannesburg from January 24. (SCORECARD)
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Cheteshwar Pujara and Parthiv Patel were batting on 11 and 5 respectively at the close of the day's play after an extended final session.
The visitors now need 252 more runs on the final day tomorrow to win the Test with seven wickets in hand in the second innings. It will be a tall task, if not an impossible one, for India as 249 is the highest total chased down successfully by any side at the Centurion, a feat achieved by England in 2000.
South Africa were 1-0 up in the three-match Test series after their 72-run victory in Cape Town. A series defeat would also snap India's nine-series winning streak.
India got off to a poor start and Vijay was the first one to go as one delivery from Rabada (1/9) in the eighth over kept low and nipped back. The batsman got an inside edge and was bowled. Rahul's dismissal was worse, in that he was caught at gully, imparting catching practice off Ngidi four overs later.
The big blow came when, in the 16th over, Ngidi trapped Kohli lbw as another ball kept low. The batsman reviewed but DRS showed three reds against him. Surprisingly, Patel was sent out to bat ahead of Rohit Sharma and he endured a blow from Ngidi. But, he managed to stay at the crease and along with
Pujara avoided further loss. This was after India made quick work of South Africa's lower order post-tea and bowled them out for 258 runs (91.3 overs) in the second innings.
India did not take the second new ball as Mohammed Shami (4/49) had Rabada (4), caught at second slip in the sixth over after the break. Eight balls later, Jasprit Bumrah (3/70) held a sharp return catch to dismiss Faf du Plessis (48). Overall, du Plessis faced 141 balls and hit four fours. R Ashwin (1/78) then had Ngidi (1) caught at long on to wrap up the innings with South Africa taking an overall 286- run lead. Ishant Sharma finished with 2/40.
Earlier, post lunch, the proceedings slowed down as India were happy to not concede too many runs. Du Plessis and Vernon Philander (26) were also happy in not creating many scoring chances, and both sides continued to stonewall.
The duo added only 31 runs in 15 overs just over an hour's play since lunch. Overall, their partnership for the sixth wicket yielded 46 runs off 156 balls.
In the second hour of the extended session, Ishant got the breakthrough.
Philander pulled a short delivery, but only managed to lob it to Vijay. Two overs later, Keshav Maharaj (6) was also caught behind off Ishant as South Africa were reduced to 215/7.
Du Plessis and Rabada though managed to see out the last six overs of the session. Surprisingly, India did not take the second new ball after 80 overs. Even more surprisingly, Shami bowled only one over - the last one - through this session.
This was after Shami's three-wicket spell had reduced South Africa to 173/5 at lunch.
In the morning session, news broke that Kohi has been fined 25 percent of his match fees and received one demerit point for breaching Level 1 of the ICC Code of Conduct during the final session on day three.
The Indian skipper had protested animatedly to on-field umpires Paul Reiffel and Michael Gough that the ball was too wet when play resumed after a brief rain break. He later pleaded guilty to the charge.
Starting from overnight 90/2, AB de Villiers (80 runs, 121 balls) and Dean Elgar (61 runs, 121 balls) took their third wicket partnership to 141 runs.
While Bumrah attacked the batsmen more, Ishant was content on keeping the run-rate down. It allowed an easy first hour for the batting pair as they added 54 runs until drinks. Their 100-run stand came off 167 balls. South Africa crossed 100 in the 33rd over and then 150 in the 43rd.
The turn-around came when Shami was introduced into the attack and he immediately started getting the ball to reverse. First, he induced an edge off de Villiers in 42nd over with the batsman surprised by extra bounce and was caught behind. Four overs later, Elgar pulled a short ball off Shami straight to Rahul at the deep square leg. The fielder fumbled but managed to hold on.
(With PTI Inputs)