Out on the grass banks, the only area within the stadium that was packed on Saturday, reaction to an airy flick by Graeme Smith off Zaheer Khan, which Virat Kohli could only parry with his outstretched hands, was mixed. While Indian fans cringed, there were South Africans who breathed a sigh of relief.
The words of one fan, here with his entire family, ringed in the ears well after tea. Smith is going to score, he had predicted. This is the belief South Africans have in their skipper. Never mind his ungainly batting style, or his poor record against Zaheer Khan. And when it comes to the fourth innings, few can match him. Out of his 27 centuries, eight have come in the final innings of the match. And he has one of the best averages and totals in innings considered the toughest to bat.
Kohli’s miss was a half chance. Keeping in mind Zak’s record – that would have been wicket No 300 – India would have loved to somehow snap that one up. But he will have to wait at least till Sunday.
Before the Test, there was talk of how rain could hamper the match and how it could make the ball move. It is not just that rain has kept away during the day; a warm Saturday saw sun beating down on the track.
As Smith played one off the front foot and safely guided a delivery to the third man fence, helping South Africa wipe 100 off the stiff target set by India, it was clear the wicket held no demons and India had to be fortunate to get a wicket; even that of the other opener, Alviro Petersen, who had moved to an unbeaten fifty.
But luck smiled on the visitors and Graeme Smith was run out six short of his half-century. An alert Ajinkya Rahane produced a direct hit after the SA skipper had pushed to mid-on and darted across for a single. Soon after, Petersen was rapped on the pads. Although the appeal was turned down, there was a spring in the stride of the India players. And then, the wicket suddenly turned vicious. The cracks that had widened on the dry surface began to come into play.
Hashim Amla, who would hate to see this wicket, fell to wrong judgement for the second time in the match, after being bowled shouldering arms against Ishant Sharma in the first innings. For the second time, it was lower bounce that did him in. One of the best judges of his off-stump, Amla ducked to a short delivery from Mohammed Shami which he expected to harmlessly sail over. But it stayed low, whizzed past his nose and rattled the stumps. The Indians couldn’t believe what they had seen but Shami gladly accepted it.
Quite surprisingly, signifying the growing confidence among the Indian fans here, Amla’s walk back to the dressing room was met with a roar that matched the one on his arrival at the wicket. Ishant fired in some bouncers to shake Petersen, and at the end of the day’s play, it was India who held the upper hand. That Smith moment was just one of the many that have seen this Test turn into a see-saw battle. Earlier in the day, when things had gone completely awry for South Africa with Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli resuming with their reserves of patience still aplenty, fighting for the first 15 overs and adding 31 runs, Pujara’s wicket set off a slide and ensured that South Africa were still breathing.
Although it was outrageous to think about them winning as the highest fourth innings total in a chase here has been 310, South Africa still had something to cheer about.