South Africa vs India 2018: Hardik Pandya's controlled counter-attack is SK Play of the Day
The all-rounder's blazing knock resuscitates India's fortunes in Cape Town.
Towards the end of the opening day's play in Cape Town, South Africa's pacers managed to set the cat among the pigeons by shredding India's top-order. The second day threatened to veer on the same lines for the visitors until Hardik Pandya rose to the occasion to turn the tide in a spectacular manner.
Resuming at 28/3, Cheteshwar Pujara and Rohit Sharma predictably adopted a cautious approach against the fiery South African pace attack. Both batsmen exercised enormous restraint to anything away from their pads.
Rohit's unusually stubborn resistance ended when Kagiso Rabada exploited his faulty footwork on a surface providing immense assistance to seamers of all variety. India went into lunch at 76/4. With Ravichandran Ashwin coming in at number six, all hopes now rested on Pujara.
However, the post-lunch session began on a disastrous note for the tourists as Pujara played an uncharacteristically loose shot off a probing Vernon Philander delivery. Pandya walked into a turbulent situation. He utilised the Decision Review System (DRS) to survive an erroneous umpiring decision early in his stay at the crease.
India's woes were further aggravated as Ashwin and Wriddhiman Saha perished cheaply. At 92/7 and a further 192 runs adrift of South Africa's first-innings total, they were staring down the barrel.
Pandya leads India's fightback
Acknowledging that the team's defensive approach had gotten them nowhere, Pandya decided to take the attack to the opposition. After being reprieved by the slip cordon, he got into the groove by hammering Philander for three boundaries in the 43rd over of the innings. Latching on to slight offerings of width and one which strayed into him, the right-hander unleashed some crisp shots.
Pandya gained in confidence when he produced a textbook cover drive to a fuller delivery from Morne Morkel. The exquisitely timed stroke also began to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the Proteas. The lengths started to change as the hosts looked to unsettle him with the short ball. But the 24-year old was equally up to the task. He responded by producing a clever ramp shot and a flaying square cut.
The attacking all-rounder soon brought up his half-century. When the fifty partnership was registered, Pandya had scored all but six of those runs. At the other end, Bhuvneshwar Kumar batted intelligently by staving off the good deliveries and feeding the strike to his belligerent batting partner.
In the 56th over of the innings, Faf du Plessis finally budged from the relentless pace battery and turned towards Keshav Maharaj. As expected, Pandya danced down the track and lofted him for a splendid six.
The left-arm spinner could have extracted revenge from the very next ball. But Quinton de Kock missed a comfortable stumping and Pandya caught his second lucky break. He rode on his serendipity to collect further valuable runs for his team's cause.
Rabada halts Pandya's surge
Meanwhile, Bhuvneshwar was growing in confidence as well. The right-hander's stellar cover drive against the dangerous Dale Steyn showed his aptitude to handle such challenging conditions away from home. When the two teams broke for tea, India were the happier outfit. They had reached 185/7 and South Africa's pace spearhead had limped off the field with a bruised heel.
By the time Morkel lured Bhuvneshwar to procure the breakthrough, the duo had added 99 handy runs for the eighth wicket. Rabada gave the Proteas another reason to cheer by getting rid of the menacing Pandya. A slew of well-aimed bouncers finally bore fruit when the all-rounder edged one to de Kock.
Even though he had fallen short of the three-figure mark by just seven runs, Pandya's knock helped reduce South Africa's first-innings lead to 77 runs. His 95-ball 93 was instrumental in propelling India to a competitive score of 209. Only time will tell if the controlled yet thrilling counter-attack would open up a new avenue for the visitors. Even if it does not turn out to be enough to influence the result, the priceless effort should be a major shot in the arm for the promising cricketer from Gujarat.