KL Rahul struck a fighting half-century after Kagiso Rabada claimed his first five-wicket haul against India as the visitors struggled to 208/8 against South Africa when rain and bad light truncated the opening day of the first Test at SuperSport Park on Tuesday.
Rabada bowled with pace and a lot of control to take advantage of a pitch with variable bounce, claiming 5-44 in an absorbing afternoon session in which the hosts claimed four wickets while the visitors added 85 runs.
This is Rabada’s 14th five-wicket haul in 61 Tests and the first against India as the 28-year-old kept pace with South African legend Shaun Pollock, who got his 14 in 60 Tests.
KL Rahul took over after that as he played his shots to good advantage as he completed his half-century off 80 balls, hitting seven boundaries and two sixes. He helped India cross the psychological mark of 200 with a couple of wickets in hand.
When stumps were called with the light fading fast following a slight drizzle, Rahul was batting on 70 off 105 deliveries, hitting 10 boundaries and two sixes, keeping the visitors’ hopes alive for adding a few more runs on the second morning. Mohammed Siraj was keeping Rahul company, yet to open his account off 10 balls/
After Temba Bavuma won the toss and elected to bowl first in the first of the two Tests in which India gave Prasidh Krishna his debut while the hosts gave first caps to Nandre Burger and David Bedingham, Rabada struck the first blow for South Africa.
Batting first after rain delayed the start of the match, skipper Rohit Sharma and Yashasvi Jaiswal opened the Indian inning. Yashasvi went off to a flying start with a boundary with a flick off his pads.
Both Rabada and Marco Jansen bowled with appreciable seam movement. There was an LBW shout against Rohit in the third over where the ball behaved like an off-break, pitching full outside off and jagging so far past the bat that it would have missed the stumps in the end.
Rabada with his accurate line and length tested Rohit with a sharp bouncer as India lost their captain in the fifth over to a short ball that he pulled to one of the only two men on the boundary, at long leg. Rohit scored 5 off 14 deliveries.
The Indian batters left more than half (33) of the first 60 balls. That’s largely because 48 of them were on the shorter side which would not hit the stumps, even if they were bowled at the stumps. But debutant Nandre Burger, with different plans, pitched one up and got the big wicket of Jaiswal. Jaiswal, who edged behind keeper Kyle Verreynne, departed after scoring 17 off 37 deliveries.
The Jaiswal wicket came off only the 10th ball that SA pitched up in the first 10 overs. Burger, lucky this time, got rid of Shubman Gill on the leg side as he just gloved the ball into the hands of wicketkeeper Verreynne.
Virat Kohli and Shreyas Iyer both were dropped on either side of the drinks break, and the duo made the most of their lives. Iyer was let off by Jansen at point, Kohli by de Zorzi at square leg. Iyer had looked to swing free while Kohli has been a lot more classical with his stroke-making.
From 26 for 3 in the first hour, India bounced back splendidly courtesy of an unbroken half-century stand between Iyer and Kohli, their 67-run partnership for the fourth wicket making it India’s
Starting at 91/3 after lunch, India lost their way again as Shreyas Iyer fell in the first over after restart.
Rabada made the breakthrough with a full inswinger that landed on a patch and kept low, took the inside edge to crash into the stumps, ending Iyer’s 50-ball vigil for 31 runs.
The 28-year-old right-handed pacer also got Kohli with another superb delivery, forcing the former India captain to nick one behind to the keeper. Rabada had Kohli playing at a well-pitched delivery angling in at off which jagged and took the outside edge to Verreynne as India slumped to 107/5.
Ravichandran Ashwin lasted only balls for eight runs before Rahul and Shardul Thakur came together for another short-lived rescue act.
Shardul Thakur showed grit with a spirited 24 off 33 balls, hitting three fours, and added 43 runs for the seventh wicket. Shardul, who took a couple of blows bravely, became Rabada’s fifth victim of the day when his drive on the up off a length ball outside off went straight to Dean Elgar.
With this Rabada completed his 500 wickets in international cricket, 285 of them coming in 61 Test matches.
With the tail to bat with, Rahul took charge as he raced to his half-century. He struck Gerald Coetzee for back-to-back boundaries, swiveling on the back foot to hit a rasping pull off a short one just outside off, getting on top of the head-high delivery for the first one after he had pumped one over extra-cover for four off the third delivery off 58th over.
That came after he had hammered Burger for a four and six off successive deliveries, whipping the fifth ball of the 52nd over through the midwicket and then followed that up with blasting the fast one pitched outside off over the boundary to bring up his half-century.
Earlier, he lofted Burger for a sensational boundary off a length ball outside off-stumps and then square-drove Rabada for a boundary.
South Africa also suffered a setback when skipper Bavuma had to walk off the field with an injury. Dean Elgar, in his last series as Test player, captained the side in his absence.
Brief scores (At Stumps, Day 1):
India 208/8 in 59 overs (KL Rahul batting 70, Virat Kohli 38, Shreyas Iyer 31; Kagiso Rabada 5-44, Nandre Burger 2-50) against South Africa.