South Africans face monster fourth innings chase
India's Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli constructed a mammoth 222-run partnership and South Africa was 138-2 at stumps today, chasing a record-shattering 458 on the final day to win the first test at the Wanderers.
Having been outplayed for almost all of the match, the No 1-ranked South Africans need another 320 runs to win, or more likely must bat out the last three sessions for a draw to keep the short two-test series between test cricket's top teams level heading to Durban.
Pujara made 153 and shared the punishing double-century partnership for the third wicket with Kohli (96) in No 2-ranked India's second-innings total of 421. The pair completely subdued a South African attack missing injured fast bowler Morne Morkel.
Even without Morkel, South Africa still had premier fast bowler Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, yet Pujara and Kohli dominated on a track made for South Africa's quicks. The surface is now cracking up through wear and likely to favour India's pacemen on the last day.
"We are expecting we will get more momentum tomorrow from the ball when it hits the cracks," Pujara said. "Even when I was batting I felt the odd ball was going up and down."
After the dominance from Pujara and Kohli yesterday, tailender Zaheer Khan clubbed 29 not out early today with two brutish sixes over extra cover at the back end of India's innings to rub salt in the South African bowlers' tender wounds.
Facing a world-record run chase, South Africa lost captain Graeme Smith to a run out for 44 and Hashim Amla for 4 to a bizarre dismissal when he tried to duck and was bowled by Mohammed Shami, a delivery that showed the unpredictable bounce. Alviro Petersen was 76 not out.
India's two late strikes after South African openers Smith and Petersen built a 108-run opening stand in the final innings ensured the visitors were still dominant as the test goes into the last day. The highest fourth-innings total at the Johannesburg ground is 351 and the Proteas must make over 100 more runs than that to win. The highest successful fourth-innings runs chase in tests anywhere is 418, still 50 short of what South Africa needs.
"I think we are really happy with the way we got two wickets," Pujara said. "Conditions will be a little more difficult tomorrow. We have got enough runs on the board. I don't think it will be an issue for us."
Even a draw is a tough task for the South Africans.
"It would be a remarkable thing to bat through tomorrow, but we know we can do it," South Africa assistant coach Adrian Burrell said.
Petersen was South Africa's one bright point at the end of a gloomy day for the hosts, with his unbeaten half-century including nine fours. But India crucially got rid of Smith when he set off for a single and Ajinkya Rahane threw down the stumps from mid-on. Shami's short delivery smashed into Amla's stumps when it kept low off one of those cracks.
"Unfortunately he got an unfortunate ball," Burrell said.
After both teams collapsed in their first innings, India put itself in prime position to win through the huge partnership between Pujara and Kohli, two of the tourists' bright new batting stars in their first test post-Sachin Tendulkar.
"There was too much (said) about this particular tour and especially Indian batsmen not doing too well overseas," Pujara said. "But I think everybody took responsibility. It was an important innings for me, too, because I wanted to score runs in South Africa considering the conditions is (are) a little difficult."
Pujara made his sixth test century and his superb 153 was his fourth score over 150 in his young career. Kohli only just missed out on a second century in the game that would have been the first double at the Wanderers after his impressive 119 from Tendulkar's No 4 spot in the first innings. When he nicked behind off part-time spinner JP Duminy in his second knock he spun away and yelled out in dismay at his error.
Still, India would have to be happy with its position in the series-opener after much of the buildup to the contest at the top of the test rankings revolved around the Indians' supposed weakness against pace and frailties away from home.
Pujara and Kohli dispelled that theory with their rampant stand late Friday, when they blasted South Africa's vulnerable bowling attack for 175 from just 38 overs in the final session after tall quick Morkel left the field with a right ankle injury early in India's second innings. He didn't return and South Africa struggled badly, with Steyn, the world's premier test bowler, returning figures of 0-104.
"I always like to score big runs," Pujara said.