Recent Match Report – South Africa vs India 1st Test 2023/24

South Africa 256 for 5 (Elgar 140*, Bedingham 56, Bumrah 2-48) lead India 245 (Rahul 101, Rabada 5-59) by 11 runs

If there is one shot a batter must master, its Dean Elgar‘s play and miss. More so if they harbour dreams of opening the batting. It really is a life-saver and as it turns out, a difference-maker. South Africa, by virtue of having him at the crease for all of their innings so far, are bossing the Boxing Day Test.

India were dismal, particularly just after lunch when they began proceedings with a debutant and their third-choice fast bowler. Those eight overs produced almost as many runs (42) as the 16 that preceded them (49) and by the time Rohit Sharma realised his mistake, it was too late.

Elgar was beyond set.

There was, however, a period when he was in trouble; it was a time when India could feel happy about the 245 they put on the board thanks to a superlative century from KL Rahul. Their frontline fast bowlers were creating chances with every other delivery. Twelve of the first 30 yielded false shots and eight of those were to balls that were pitched up. Aiden Markram fell in the middle of this examination.

But Elgar didn’t. Because he doesn’t push at the ball. He fared no better than his partner, often being squared up, occasionally taking blows on the body. But the thing he did so well was not to follow the seam movement that was on offer. He had a plan and he was content to look ugly for it because who cares when it also gives him 140 runs off 211 balls in his final Test series.

The Centurion pitch was still rife with danger. The first over that Kagiso Rabada bowled included four back-to-back play-and-misses from Rahul. Later on, Prasidh Krishna got one to rise so far off just back of a length that Elgar was forced off his feet, and even then he couldn’t get high enough to put bat to it. This is the kind of setting that helps good batters realise they have a whole other level to them. Rahul, for example, was loving it out there. The biggest smile he flashed was not for his century – which he brought up with a six – but for a ball that beat him outside off stump because it was a reminder that the odds were against him and he was still making it count.

Elgar’s moment came a little later, when he clattered a pull shot in front of square leg to mark the completion of an important set. He will now end his career with a century on every ground he has played a Test at home. Whether that prompted him to leap up and punch the air and scream like he just didn’t care is up for debate. A celebration that over-the-top hints at something more than just satisfaction. Could it have been a statement made to a doubter? Whatever it was that was fuelling Elgar, it helped him produce an innings of high impact. When he raised his hundred, he had 80 runs in boundaries, many of them through the off side which is atypical for him. It was almost like knowing he won’t be able to play it for too much longer made him let the cover drive off its leash.

South Africa found 145 runs after lunch. That’s more than anything they’ve ever scored in a single session of Test cricket since the start of 2018. They preyed on India’s back-up bowlers. Prasidh and Shardul Thakur were left nursing a combined economy rate of 5.2 in the afternoon as a total that was 49 for 1 turned into 194 for 3 in just 33 overs.

David Bedingham impressed with a half-century on debut. The game that he has developed over the course of 86 first-class outings appears to be all about weight transfer. He doesn’t move a great deal to meet the ball. But with what little he does, he makes sure his weight goes into the shot. There was a flick off Jasprit Bumrah that typified this strength. It was the kind of ball that right-handers could fall over and end up lbw if they weren’t careful. But Bedingham was. He met it late, under his eyes, and didn’t overhit it.

India may yet salvage this situation because the pitch at SuperSport Park is still tough to bat on. A new ball will be available to them in 14 overs and when they do get it right, they showed they can be hard to deal with. It all started in the 27th over when, fed up with what was happening, Mohammed Siraj extended his followthrough all the way up to the stumps at the batter’s end and switched the bails around. Stuart Broad had done the same in the Ashes earlier this year and because he is Stuart Broad a wicket fell immediately. Siraj is not quite there so his supernatural powers took a while to kick in. An over to be exact.

Bumrah removed Tony de Zorzi to end a 93-run second-wicket partnership and nine balls later, he topped it with Keegan Petersen’s wicket. India struck twice again late in the day, which might in a way sting them really, because it was proof of how hard it was to build a partnership in Centurion. They let South Africa off the hook too often and too easily which is why they are now officially playing catch-up, trailing by 11 runs when the umpires took everyone off for bad light.

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