India nudged ahead of South Africa on the second day of the third and final Test as the quality of the Wanderers Stadium pitch was described as “challenging” as well as “dangerous”.
After conceding a seven-run lead after a low-scoring first innings, India reached 49 for one at the close, an overall lead of 42.
Wickets tumbled and batsmen were struck on the fingers and body as the teams battled for supremacy.
Former South African captain Shaun Pollock and ex-India skipper Sunil Gavaskar criticised the pitch during a teatime pitch report for SuperSport television.
Pointing to cracks and indentations on a good length, with graphics showing extravagant movement and unpredictable bounce, Pollock said: “If you’ve got deliveries behaving like this on day two of a Test match it can’t be judged a good surface.”
Gavaskar said the pitch was “totally in favour of bowlers”.
Players from both sides were more guarded in their opinions.
Indian fast bowler Jasprit Bumrah, who took five for 54 as South Africa were bowled out for 194, said: “It’s a little different. We have not played on such a wicket.
“We’re not too critical of the wicket right now because the match is going on. Our basic plan is not to focus on the wicket but focus on the things we have to do.”
Bumrah, whose side are trying to avoid a 3-0 series whitewash, did however acknowledge: “Some balls are up and down so that could be dangerous for the batsmen.”
Hashim Amla, who top-scored for South Africa with 61, said it was one of the most difficult pitches he had batted on. “This one has a lot of pace, a lot of bounce, it is quite challenging.”
Asked whether the pitch provided a fair contest, Amla said: “It’s quite a spicy wicket. No-one can hide from the fact that you can get out every ball. At the same time it’s challenging for a batsman. Sometimes we get a wicket which is pretty flat and the batsmen enjoy it. (This) is difficult to bat on.”
Amla then posed a question of his own and answered with a smile, “Is it too excessive or not? Ask a batsman and what do you think he will say?”
In an innings when the other five of the regular South African top six batsmen scored a combined 27 runs, Amla devised a strategy of moving across his stumps as the bowlers delivered.
“I just figured that the ball is doing so much so get into their channel. If it’s outside (the line of the stumps) try and leave it. You are going to take a few on the body and hands but it is part of the game.”
Amla battled for four hours and faced 121 balls in making the highest score of the match. Bowlers Kagiso Rabada (30) and Vernon Philander (35) were the only South Africans to reach double figures.
Nightwatchman Rabada batted until six minutes before the lunch break and shared a third wicket partnership of 64 with Amla.
Amla survived two reviews for leg before wicket, being saved by the “umpire’s call” provision on both occasions, and took some painful blows, including one in the ribs and another on his hand.
In the context of the match, India could feel reasonably satisfied with their efforts towards the close of play.
Wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel was promoted to open the batting and the little left-hander batted brightly to score 16 off 15 balls before he was caught at gully off Philander from an inside edge which looped off his thigh pad.
Regular opener Lokesh Rahul joined Murali Vijay and saw India through to the close.
With the South African bowlers proving surprisingly erratic, both Vijay and Rahul were able to put some loose deliveries away.
“We probably weren’t at our best but we’ve got a quality bowling attack and they played a few good shots,” said Amla.