India started strongly on the first day of the first Test against South Africa at Newlands on Friday, but finished in disarray after a ferocious onslaught by the home team’s fast bowlers.
India were 28 for three at the close — with skipper Virat Kohli amongst the victims — after bowling out the hosts for 286.
It was a remarkable turnaround after South Africa had been reduced to 12 for three by Bhuvneshwar Kumar inside the first half hour.
Counter-attacking batting, led by aggressive half-centuries by AB de Villiers and captain Faf du Plessis, and some wayward bowling by India enabled South Africa to make a reasonable total on a lively pitch.
Then the South African fast bowlers struck.
Vernon Philander had Murali Vijay caught at gully and four balls later Dale Steyn, playing his first Test match in more than a year, caught Shikhar Dhawan off his own bowling when Dhawan’s attempted pull steepled high into the air.
The biggest prize fell to Morne Morkel, who came on as first change and produced a sharply-lifting delivery which Indian captain Virat Kohli edged to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock after making just five.
The biggest prize fell to Morne Morkel, who came on as first change and produced a sharply-lifting delivery which Kohli edged to wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock.
Du Plessis said batting first on a well-grassed pitch was a “tricky decision” and his side’s start must have reinforced his misgivings.
Kumar gained appreciable movement off a well-grassed pitch to plunge the South African innings into deep trouble.
Dean Elgar, South Africa’s leading batsman during 2017, edged the third ball of the match to be caught behind by Wriddhiman Saha for nought.
His opening partner, Aiden Markram, fell in Kumar’s next over, leg before wicket for five, before Hashim Amla, on three, edged an attempted back foot drive and gave Saha a second catch.
Saha finished with five catches behind the stumps.
De Villiers and Du Plessis started the recovery, putting on 114 for the fourth wicket, with De Villiers in sparkling form as he hit 65 off 84 balls with 11 fours.
He showed intent from the start of his innings, hitting four fours off Kumar’s fifth over.
De Villiers missed a drive against new cap Jasprit Bumrah and was bowled. Du Plessis went on to make 62 off 104 balls with 12 fours before he was caught behind off Hardik Pandya.
Quinton de Kock (43) and Vernon Philander (23) put on a rapid 60 for the sixth wicket before De Kock was caught behind by Kumar and Philander was bowled by Mohammed Shami.
There were useful contributions from the lower order batsmen before the innings ended, leaving the Indian batsmen with 51 minutes to bat against a four-man pace attack, including Steyn, who had not played at top level since suffering a fractured shoulder against Australia in November 2016.
Dhawan hit two boundaries off Philander’s first over but it didn’t take long for the bowlers to find their range.