SOUTH AFRICA’S TOUR OF INDIA, 2019

Maharaj scored a gutsy 72.

Maharaj scored a gutsy 72. © AFP

India seemed all set to wrap up South Africa’s feeble riposte to their gargantuan 601 midway through the second session, when Faf du Plessis’s fight came to an end. Day 3 in Pune had been all about India until that point, to the extent that the 14,000 people that made it to the stands on the weekend, despite all the hassles, cheered to the tunes of Virat Kohli’s constant gesturing. But there was a late defiance still in store.

When Keshav Maharaj, still carrying a shoulder injury, joined Vernon Philander, the latter had already batted like he was on a reputation-restoration mission after bagging a pair in Vizag. The pair had the advantage of building their innings at a time when the ball had gone soft, but the demand – of a big, stalling partnership – was still tough to achieve.

Even more so when Kohli saw merit in packing Philander’s off-side field against Ravindra Jadeja while letting the midwicket region empty in the quest for an erroneous decision-making from the South African all-rounder. To his credit, Philander never took the bait, stonewalling his way through to 21 dot balls before scoring his first run. In Maharaj’s company though, he assumed the role of the senior partner, despite the No. 10 batsman too bringing along a reputation of being a handy enough lower-order batsman with a first-class half-century to his name.

“Myself and Vernon (Philander) decided that trying to go to tea unscathed was the first target, I was a bit injudicious at times (being a lower order batsman), he kept me in my mind and space and I managed to get some runs,” Maharaj would later say in a post-match chat with the broadcaster.

The baton of seniority may have stayed with Philander, but he chose to slip into being second fiddle while Maharaj was getting a few handy runs, even at the cost of straining his already hurt shoulder. The pair achieved their first goal, heading into the break after having stalled India together for more than 20 overs. It was the combination of Philander’s batting skills and Maharaj’s neat homework the previous night with video analyst Prasanna on how to negotiate the Jadeja threat.

With the new ball in, Philander and Maharaj had a new challenge to see out from the start of the final session. Philander took it head on with immaculate technique, that Ashwin would later acknowledge. As Kohli lined up bevy fielders behind the stumps, Philander negated it with a soft-hands approach. Both the batsmen went through phases where they played and missed or even had to duck awkwardly under deliveries that kick up off length, as survival was starting to get tougher. They hung in there and saw off seven overs of relentless pace with the new ball, before feeling a little at ease against Jadeja and Ashwin.

The Day 3 wicket was yet to deteriorate entirely, and still offered value to batsmen who could display some level of application and get behind the line of the ball against the spinners. Both Philander and Maharaj pulled that off in their 259-ball partnership.

“From the guys at the top of the order, the batters, the guys who are entrusted with scoring the bulk of the runs, it does kind of hurt, it does dent your ego when they [lower order] seem to know how to go out and fight it out to do what you’re really playing to do,” Bavuma said in the press conference.

Besides reducing India’s lead, the Maharaj-Philander alliance also brought a much-needed injection of positivity in the South African dressing room, after yet another failed top-order effort dragged them down again.

“It was a spectacular effort from Vernon and Keshav to fight it out there in the middle and face as many balls as they did and still accumulate runs. I mean, us in the change room and on the sides, we were enjoying it. We were feeding from the confidence they were giving us.

“You saw the balance between the defence and the attacking shots. That’s something we’ve been speaking about as batters. That’s what we are aiming to do. I think the mood is definitely positive and has been positive, to be honest. It was enjoyable to watch,” Bavuma said.

“There’s a lot of positives to take. This is definitely a confidence booster. Keshav is the big player in the team, obviously Vernon as well. For big players, for senior players to step up when the occasion arises is definitely something we can stick out our chest on. Like I said, over the next two days we are going to need a lot more of that… with the ball, with the bat, in every department, we are going to need guys to put up their hand and no matter which way the result goes, we will show that our pride is intact,” Bavuma said.

South Africa ended their first innings on 275, still as many as 326 runs short of India’s first-innings effort. Should India choose to not enforce follow-on on Day 4, South Africa will have the chance to walk the talk and direct all the newly-earned positivity and determination towards the arduous task of batting out more than four sessions to keep the series alive.

© Cricbuzz



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