Jansen complemented Rabada with a three-wicket haul; Pujara was the only other Indian batter to cross 40
South Africa 17 for 1 (Markram 8*, Maharaj 6*, Bumrah 1-0) trail India 223 (Kohli 79, Pujara 43, Rabada 4-73) by 206 runs
Cape Town had to be the setting for one of the most compelling one-on-one battles. Dark clouds had obscured Table mountain. A bad omen for all batters. And if that wasn’t enough, once they made it to the crease and looked up, they saw the grim reaper. Only he was holding a red ball instead of a black scythe. Rabada refused to succumb to human error. Every ball was on a good length. Everything was targeting the stumps. Nothing short. Nothing down leg. Nothing easy. All of it at 140 kph.
Ajinkya Rahane was consumed by this onslaught.
He came in with his career hanging by a thread and Rabada snapped it with a ruthlessness that has always drawn the whole world to the art of fast bowling. Pitched up. Angling in. Moving late. Edged. Gone. The moment was almost a physical manifestation of the kind of luck that has dogged the former India vice-captain. Like, if he were to look under his couch cushions for some change, he’d probably find a moldy old half-eaten tuna sandwich instead.
Newlands offered help to the seamers all through the day but it was only slight. Ironically, that meant the ball took the edges instead of whooshing past them. And Rabada made the most of it by going wobble-seam. The thing with this variation is that nobody really knows how it behaves until it hits the deck and comes up. If the seam is upright, it jags about. If it isn’t, it goes straight. Rabada made this uncertainty feel even more pronounced by going full and straight. This produced two-fold problems for the batters – they couldn’t leave the ball and they had very time to adjust to how it moved off the surface.
Now every unstoppable force needs an immovable object. Joker has Batman. Global warming has Greta Thunberg. And Rabada had Kohli. There was a period between the 47th and the 49th overs when this showdown hit fever pitch. There were plays and misses. There was an edge that fell short. There were oohs. There were aaahs. There were wry smiles. But there was no wicket.
And that’s the genius of Kohli.
He walked out at a time when South Africa’s bowlers were producing one false shot every four balls. India were 33 for 2 and under siege. To survive a situation like that, you need clarity of thought and conviction of method. Kohli displayed both. He left 64.7%, of his first 100 deliveries, outside the off stump. In the last five years, over 1100 innings, only four batters have ever been more restrained.
Here, Kohli was determined to make South Africa’s bowlers come at him. And it worked. He played only 16 false shots in 201 deliveries. That count for the rest of the team: 48 in 271.
Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo