KL Rahul masterclass gives India ideal start in quest to conquer SA
CENTURION: Opener K.L. Rahul showed superb application to score a seventh Test century and gave India an ideal start in their quest to win a Test series in South Africa with a solid century on the first day of the first Test at SuperSport Park on Sunday.
Rahul made 122 not out as India reached 272-3 at the close after Indian captain Virat Kohli won the toss and decided to bat on a green-tinged pitch.
Vice-captain Rahul, who averaged 7.50 in four innings with a top score of 16 in South Africa three years ago, reached his ton off 218 balls as he toyed with a blunt home bowling attack on a slow wicket.
He will resume on the second morning with Ajinkya Rahane (40 not out), whose place in the side had been under scrutiny but played some wonderful shots to share an unbeaten fourth-wicket stand of 73.
Ragged South Africa looked like a side who have not played Test cricket since June, with a number of their players having had no red-ball cricket in the last six months.
They bowled too short on a wicket providing little assistance and did not attack the stumps enough after India had won the toss and elected to bat in overcast conditions.
The decision to select 21-year-old debutant left-arm seamer Marco Jansen (0-61) over the more experienced, and in-form, Duanne Olivier raised eyebrows too.
The home side had to wait until the second session to make a breakthrough as India opener Mayank Agarwal (60) was trapped lbw by Lungi Ngidi (3-45) after a 117-run opening partnership with Rahul.
Agarwal left the field vigorously shaking his head after a review from South Africa suggested the delivery was striking the top of leg stump.
“Putting up 270 on the first day is fantastic and the key to us doing that was getting a good start,” Agarwal told reporters. “When you come abroad to places like South Africa, it is very important you apply yourself, be disciplined and come with good game-plans. That paid dividends for us. The pitch was initially quite soft and there was moisture there. We knew scoring runs on the front foot would not be easy.”
After waiting 242 deliveries for their first wicket, the home side got with the next ball when Cheteshwar Pujara pushed forward to Ngidi and was caught off the glove and thigh-pad by Keegan Petersen at short leg.
Pujara had only been out first ball once before in his 92-Test career — run out by Ngidi at Centurion Park in 2018.
Captain Virat Kohli (35) is now without a Test century in 24 innings but looked in good touch before he chased a wide delivery from Ngidi and was caught by Wiaan Mulder at first slip.
“Credit goes to them, they had good disciplines and they left well. We could have been a lot better in terms of our lines and lengths,” Ngidi said. “We need to reset and go again.”
The South Africa team wore black armbands in honour of anti-apartheid icon Desmond Tutu, described as the country’s moral compass, who died on Sunday aged 90. Both teams also held a minute’s silence.
INDIA (1st innings):
K.L. Rahul not out 122
M. Agarwal lbw b Ngidi 60
C. Pujara c Petersen b Ngidi 0
V. Kohli c Mulder b Ngidi 35
A. Rahane not out 40
EXTRAS (B-4, LB-4, NB-7) 15
TOTAL (for three wkts, 90 overs) 272
FALL OF WICKETS: 1-117 (Agarwal), 2-117 (Pujara), 3-199 (Kohli).
BOWLING (to-date): Rabada 20-5-51-0 (7nb), Ngidi 17-4-45-3, Jansen 17-4-61-0, Mulder 18-3-49-0, Maharaj 18-2-58-0.
TO BAT: R. Pant, R. Ashwin, S. Thakur, Mohammed Shami, J. Bumrah, Mohammed Siraj.
SOUTH AFRICA: D. Elgar, A. Markram, K. Petersen, R. van der Dussen, T. Bavuma, Q. de Kock, W. Mulder, M. Jansen, K. Maharaj, K. Rabada, L. Ngidi
UMPIRES: Marais Erasmus and Adrian Holdstock (both South Africa).
TV UMPIRE: Allahuddien Paleker (South Africa).
MATCH REFEREE: Andy Pycroft (Zimbabwe).
Published in Dawn, December 27th, 2021