Kagiso Rabada celebrates the dismissal of Virat Kohli (Gallo)
India had Virat Kohli’s genius on day one of the third and final Test at Newlands on Tuesday, but the Proteas had the relentless aggression, skill and accuracy of their premier seam bowler, Kagiso Rabada.
It was a battle of epic proportions with two of the game’s modern-day greats at their very best, and while it was Rabada (4/73) who removed Kohli (79) just before 17:00, the Indian skipper had already put on his own masterclass by then.
If the tourists do find a way over the line to secure a historic series win over the next few days after being bowled all out for 223 in their first innings, they will have their skipper to thank for it.
SCOREBOARD | Proteas v India – 3rd Test, Day 1
Despite their fine work with the ball, the Proteas had already lost Dean Elgar (3) to Jasprit Bumrah in their first-innings to end day one on 17/1, still 206 runs behind.
The Test match, and the series, hangs in the balance, and while the day belonged to Rabada and Kohli from an individual point of view, it is impossible to pick a clear favourite at this stage.
Kohli showed exactly why he is one of the best of his generation and as wickets fell around him at regular intervals, he played with discipline, patience and the soundest judgment.
India have never won a Test series in South Africa in seven previous attempts, and nobody wants to change that more than Kohli.
As well as Kohli batted, though, the Proteas will be pleased with their day’s work, having lost the toss yet again before being asked to bowl first.
They had their own hero in Rabada, who delivered another match-changing performance to lead the attack on a day that ebbed and flowed with all of the tension one would expect from a series decider.
As much as this one means to India, Proteas skipper Elgar said at the toss that this was one of the biggest Tests he had ever played.
Following a dramatic win in the second Test at the Wanderers last week, thanks to Elgar’s 96*, the Proteas took a significant step in the right direction that will count for little unless they find a way to win again here.
Rabada in his 50th Test was superb, with his brilliant spell between lunch and tea followed up by another in the final session. Whenever India looked like they were on the road to recovery and stability, Rabada popped up with a key wicket.
The big stick came in Rabada’s 20th over when Kohli, running out of partners and with the field spread to gift him the single, edged through become Kyle Verreynne’s fifth catch of the day.
Elgar again backed his seam quartet that also included Marco Jansen, Duanne Olivier and Lungi Ngidi as Keshav Maharaj was only introduced in the 62nd over.
Jansen (3/55) gave another impactful performance that suggests he is a real find for this South African Test side, while Olivier (1/42), Maharaj (1/14) and Ngidi (1/33) also picked up a wicket each.
It is quite remarkable that South Africa have lost 15 of their last 16 tosses in Test cricket, and Elgar conceded that he would have batted first had the coin fell in his favour.
Still, the Proteas had Indian openers KL Rahul (12) and Mayank Agarwal (15) back in the hut early enough, and at 33/2, Elgar would have been more than pleased.
There was then resistance in the form of a 62-run third-wicket stand between Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara (43), but the latter was removed by a length Jansen delivery that was edged through to Verreynne.
India were 75/2 at lunch and then 141/4 at tea with the match evenly poised at that point, but six wickets for 82 runs in the final session saw the Proteas put themselves in a strong position.
Elgar and Aiden Markram came out to the middle with around 30 minutes left, but South Africa’s Wanderers hero fell to Bumrah shortly before the close when he edged through to the slips.
Keshav Maharaj came in as the night-watchman, and survived until the close of play despite suffering what looked a nasty hamstring injury.
Scores in brief:
India 223 (Kohli 79, Pujara 43, Rabada 4/73, Jansen 3/55)
SA 17/1 (Markram 8*, Maharaj 6*, Bumrah 1/0)
SA trail by 206 runs with 9 first-innings wickets remaining