Visiting India in total control at The Wanderers

GERALD IMRAY
Last updated 07:39 21/12/2013

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India took complete charge of the opening test against South Africa today by bullying the top-ranked team's diminished pace attack for a 320-run lead at stumps on the third day.

India was utterly dominant at 284-2 at the close after South Africa, already struggling and behind, lost fast bowler Morne Morkel to an ankle injury early in the Indians' second innings at the Wanderers.

At the end, Cheteshwar Pujara was unbeaten on 135 and first-innings century-maker Virat Kohli 77 not out to give India a convincing advantage with two days to play. South Africa was bowled out for 244 in its first innings to start the surprisingly one-sided dominance by the tourists.

Pujara and Kohli added 175 runs off 38 overs in the final session to underline India's superb day.

"When they were going quite well, the atmosphere (in the dressing room) was quite relaxing," India bowler Ishant Sharma said. "It's nice to see the batsmen making runs in South Africa."

In the field, South Africa was desperate and at one point wicketkeeper AB de Villiers bowled an over and batsman Hashim Amla stood in for him behind the stumps.

"We're just trying to just get over today," allrounder Vernon Philander said. "Obviously the guys are quite down, to be quite honest with you. Having lost Morne as well makes a big difference in our bowling unit."

With a 36-run first-innings advantage, India forged much further ahead with Pujara's century, his sixth in just 16 tests. His 70-run partnership with Murali Vijay and unbroken stand of 191 with Kohli also finally put clear daylight between the world's two best teams after both collapsed in clutches in the first innings in Johannesburg.

While No 2 India can't overtake South Africa in the rankings over the brief two-test contest, it can lay down a marker by ending the Proteas' 13-series unbeaten run stretching back to 2009, and the Indians already probably have enough runs and only need to give themselves enough time to bowl out the South Africans to take the opener.

"It all depends on the time now," bowler Sharma said. "I don't think the runs matter."

With Pujara unbeaten and Kohli looking in especially ominous form, India was also aiming to continue its dominance through Saturday as the South African attack, exacerbated by Morkel's absence, looked suddenly tamer than it has in years on a track made for its pacemen.

"Hopefully tomorrow morning we can strike early and push them off their plans a little bit," Philander said. "(But) I'm not going to shy away from the fact that we'd welcome rain."

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De Villiers' over before tea, his first bowling in tests since 2006, provided India with five easy runs, yet Pujara and Kohli were equally comfortable, sometimes rampant, against the front-line seam of Dale Steyn, wicket-less in the second innings so far, and Philander.

The Indians were already in position to take a telling early lead after efficiently removing South Africa's tail quickly in the morning to keep them to just 244 all out in the first innings. Seamers Sharma and Zaheer Khan took four wickets each as South Africa fell away to lose its last four wickets for 31 runs in less than 10 overs in the morning.

Sharma took 4-79 and Khan returned from a yearlong absence from test cricket to take an impressive 4-88.

"It's always nice to see Zak (Khan) back on the side," Sharma said, "the amount of confidence he gives you while you are bowling."

Only Philander resisted after skipper Graeme Smith's half-century on Thursday. Philander was out for 59 early on Friday, however, and Khan wrapped up the innings with three of the four wickets to fall on the third morning.

Philander and Faf du Plessis, who made a grinding 20 from 77 balls, still saved South Africa from a far worse fate after it was reduced to 146-6 in a mid-innings burst by Sharma late on the second day. Philander, the tailender who took charge of the late partnership, hit seven fours in all to lift his struggling side, including two off the first over of the third day.

Philander also had South Africa's breakthrough at the start of India's second innings when opener Shikhar Dhawan edged to slip, earning Philander his 100th test wicket in his 19th match, the fastest to that mark for a South African. Steyn, the previous record-holder, took 20 tests. Kallis then edged out Vijay for 39 with a leg-side delivery, only for Pujara and Kohli to keep the Indians intact and rolling on.

South Africa's tough task of finding a way back into the series-opener was made much harder when Morkel tumbled awkwardly and twisted his right ankle while fielding just before lunch. He was helped off by two teammates after being treated on the ground and won't be able to bowl again in the match, South Africa's team management said.

"It's one of those days," Philander said.

- AP

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