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Kagiso Rabada Triple-Strike Dents India After Cheteshwar Pujara, Ajinkya Rahane Fifties

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It was not quite “save the cheerleader, save the world” stuff, but Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane went part of the way towards saving their immediate careers – though not the Johannesburg Test itself – in a match that continued to swing to extremes. If the first hour belonged to India’s veteran duo, Kagiso Rabada roared into rhythm in the second to burst through the fortress India were beginning to build.On Day 3 at the Wanderers, the first hour saw India score 66 runs in 14 overs without losing a wicket. The second had a scoreline of 37 for 4 in ten overs, three of those wickets blasted out by Rabada. The leader of South Africa’s attack shrugged off a poor start to the day by the bowlers to find his rhythm, and not only get rid of both set batters after they had each passed fifty, but also sent back a rattled Rishabh Pant for a three-ball duck.At lunch, with India having only 188 on the board at six wickets down, South Africa still had their noses ahead in this game.But the picture was very different in the first hour, as Pujara and Rahane began where they had left off on the second evening. They were proactive and positive at the crease, and on the lookout for runs where they were offered. South Africa’s bowlers didn’t help their cause with some ordinary lengths, thus allowing drives, cuts and pulls aplenty.

Pujara showed his intent early by whacking an on drive to the long-on boundary off Lungi Ngidi in the day’s second over; this, after he had already glanced a four at the start of it. It was the sort of ball which Pujara might ordinarily have just pushed to cover, but he had aggression in his shot-making. Three overs later, Rahane rose with the ball as Marco Jansen banged it in short outside off, and cut it beautifully over point for six.Both men reached quick fifties, Pujara getting there in 62 balls and Rahane taking 67. Rahane did have a bit of luck on 43 when a ball from Rabada kicked off back of a length and took his fending glove to loop up, but second slip and gully both left it to each other and were slow to react. While that ball showed what Rabada could do when he found his lengths, it took a bit of time before it all came together for the quick.Five overs later, Rabada charged in again, hit the hard length outside off that has made balls rear up on this pitch, and moved it away just enough to catch Rahane’s outside edge, with the batter unable to prevent his hands following the ball. And in his next over, Rabada got one to dart back into Pujara at good pace. Pujara’s half-forward movement made him an lbw candidate, and so even a review couldn’t save him.As for Pant, Rabada gave him a working over in just two balls, beating him outside off first up and then firing a missile that rose up to throat and had the batter in a complete tangle as he fended with gloves and saw the ball land short of the slips. Next ball, Pant danced down the track and tried to whack Rabada over cover, but only got an edge through to the keeper. With Rabada in the seventh over of his spell and his bowling clearly a cut above the rest, Pant’s shot selection might not have been the best.Rabada would bowl one more over after the wicket, after which he went off, but South Africa had one more left in the session. R Ashwin had played positively, much like he did in the first innings, though it carried greater risk this time because the bowlers were zipping after Rabada’s triple strike. Eventually, he fell in somewhat of an anti-climax, strangled down the leg side by Ngidi.

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