India v South Africa: Keshav Maharaj shows fight as hosts run into tailender issues again

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Maharaj and Philander frustrate India. Image credit - BCCI/Twitter.

India remained in the driving seat in their second Test against South Africa at Pune but the visitors did well to delay what looked inevitable with a dogged batting display on Day Three.

Having earlier seen India amass a mammoth 601-5 after Virat Kohli’s seventh double ton, the Proteas were staring at a humongous first innings deficit when they started the day’s proceedings at 36-3 on Saturday. They were put on the backfoot straight away with India’s bowlers striking early in the morning session, but they battled hard in the latter half with their last wicket tumbling only with the final delivery of the day.

Their gritty lower-order resistance saw them cut down India’s first-innings lead to 326 ultimately when something above the 400-mark looked like a near certainty at one stage. That rearguard action led by Keshav Maharaj is among our key talking points from Day Three at Pune.

Umesh shows his worth on comeback

Such are the riches at India’s disposal in the pace attack that Umesh Yadav had been given just the one Test appearance over the last 12 months. The 31-year-old had been a tireless workhorse for India in their extended home stretch in 2016-18 but had been ignored for the most part when it came to the overseas tour cycle of South Africa, England and Australia last year.

Having finally got his chance at Pune after a long wait, the Nagpur-born pacer made it count with an impressive bowling display. Umesh was on fire with the new-ball towards the end of the second day where he removed South Africa openers Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar in quick succession to rattle the hosts.

The fast bowler was at it again in Saturday’s morning session by dislodging the well-set Temba Bavuma to give India a roaring start on Day Three. While he might have been used sparingly in short bursts by skipper Virat Kohli, Umesh showed once again why he can be such an effective pace option on subcontinent pitches. He was at the risk of becoming the forgotten man in India’s pacer armoury but his latest display has put him right back in the reckoning.

Umesh is back in business. Image credit - BCCI/Twitter.

Umesh is back in business. Image credit – BCCI/Twitter.

Lower-order shows the way once again for sorry Proteas

Just like they had done in the second innings of the Vizag Test, it was South Africa’s lower-order which brought the fight to India’s bowlers after another collapse by the top-order batsmen.

None of the top-order batsmen apart from skipper Faf du Plessis (64) showed any fight with the visitors reduced to 139-7 early in the second session on Day Three. Thankfully for the Proteas, bowlers Keshav Maharaj and Vernon Philander came with gritty displays with the bat to save their blushes.

The pair added 109 runs for the ninth wicket with the impressive Maharaj sealing his maiden Test fifty after a determined stay at the crease. The left-armed orthodox spinner had been left with a sore shoulder after bowling as many as 50 overs during India’s first innings but he battled through the pain with some aplomb in a 72-run knock that put South Africa’s top-order batsmen to shame.

At the other end, Philander was excellent too with the seamer chipping in with an unbeaten 44. That both Maharaj and Philander individually faced more deliveries than South Africa’s top five batsmen combined was a damning stat for the visitors.

India’s problems with the tail continue

The lower-order rearguard action by South Africa is just the latest in a worrying trend which has become all too common for India in recent times. It was on display in the first Test at Vizag as well and it is one flaw that has seen them come undone in last year’s overseas tours of South Africa, England and Australia.

While it did not cost them a historic series victory Down Under, it did play its part in the team’s reversals in South Africa and England. In England, it was young Sam Curran who hurt India repeatedly despite the visitors making early inroads on several occasions in the five-match series which they ultimately lost by 4-1.

The lower-order resistance might not punish India majorly in the ongoing Test given their daunting first-innings total but skipper Kohli quickly needs to address the issue if the hosts are to maintain their current advantage in the ICC World Test Championship.

Kohli himself missed a trick on Saturday by bafflingly under-bowling Umesh despite his electric start with the new-ball. That the pacer was given just the 13 overs in total in South Africa’s first innings despite claiming three top-order wickets was almost bordering on criminal.

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