Ajinkya Rahane stood tall amidst ruins with an unbeaten 89 as the much vaunted top-order failed et again with India reaching a shaky 231 for 7 against South Africa on the opening day of fourth and final cricket Test, on Thursday.
Save for Rahane, who came back to form with a top quality unbeaten 89-run innings from 155 balls, and skipper Virat Kohli (44), who looked in good touch, the other specialist batsmen did not make use of a slow but decent enough track for batting after the skipper had won the toss.
Rahane’s innings had nine boundaries and two sixes and he is 11 short of a well-deserved fifth Test hundred.
Giving Rahane a company was R Ashwin (6) when play was called off slightly early owing to bad light.
The tormentors for India were spinner Dane Piedt (4/101 in 34 overs), playing his first Test of the series, and pacer Kyle Abott (3/23 in 17 overs), who was economical as well as incisive with his swing bowling as South Africa sent down 84 overs during the day.
Rahane, who scored his first ever half-century on home soil, kept his cool even as wickets tumbled at the other end. For the record, this is only the third half-century by an Indian batsman in the series so far and eighth half-century of Rahane’s Test career.
The total was also the highest by any team in the series so far. There were only two significant partnerships — 70 between Kohli and Rahane for the 4th wicket and 59 for the 7th wicket between Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja (24).
While he played second fiddle to Kohli during their stand, Rahane took charge once Wriddhiman Saha (1) was castled by Abbott’s reverse swing.
Piedt, who came from round the wicket, fired at an angle which was dispatched for maximum over deep mid-wicket. His 50 came off 91 balls when he hit Piedt for a boundary as Jadeja also grew in confidence at the other end.
However, Morne Morkel, coming for his final spell of the day, got Jadeja to flick one as Dean Elgar snapped a smart catch at mid-wicket.
The team’s 200 came in the 74th over when Rahane hit an Imran Tahir half-tracker towards mid-wicket boundary and followed it up with a lofted hit over mid-on.
Skipper Kohli’s promising innings was cut short by a freak dismissal while Rohit Sharma’s indiscreet shot selection compounded the home team’s problems on a Feroz Shah Kotla track which was far better than the ones provided at Mohali and Nagpur.
Kohli had raced to 44, his highest score in the series and looked good for even more when he was sent by South Africa’s most successful bowler off-spinner Dane Piedt, who had figures of 4/101 to show for his efforts.
It was a flighted delivery and Kohli hit a full-blooded sweep shot. But to his horror, the ball popped up after rebounding off the thigh of forward short-leg fielder Temba Bavuma.
Wicketkeeper Dane Vilas rushed from his position to dive forward and completed an impressive catch.
Kohli struck seven boundaries in 62 balls adding 70 runs with Ajinkya Rahane for the fourth wicket.
But it will certainly be Rohit Sharma (1), whose irresponsible shot-selection will be talked about for some time to come.
Having been dropped at slip on 0 by Hashim Amla off Kyle Abbott’s bowling, Rohit decided to give Piedt the charge by lofting a flighted delivery only to be caught by the fielder stationed at long on for that exact shot.