All-round Philander resists inspired India
South Africa 213 for 6 (Smith 68*, Philander 48*, Ishant 3-64) trail India 280 (Kohli 119, Philander 4-61) by 67 runs
Any South Africa fans who decided to head to the Wanderers after tracking the first two sessions at work or college, would have been gobsmacked on taking their seat. Instead of seeing their mighty side extend their dominance, South Africa's heavyweight batting had been taken apart. That too by Ishant Sharma, lately the punchline of most jokes about Indian cricket. South Africa had suddenly slid from 130 for 1 to 146 for 6.
It was left to Vernon Philander, who had rolled over the Indian lower order in the first hour, to lead South Africa's resistance with the bat, frustrating India for nearly two hours and even up the match. He had begun the day by tweeting around midnight: "Toothache ... you are starting to annoy the ++++ out of me now." His crucial performances with bat and ball will serve to improve his mood tremendously.
The major drama of the final session was preceded by South Africa moving into a position of strength by the break. Graeme Smith was playing the sort of innings he specialises in - ugly, but effective. There was a painful inside-edge onto his knee early on, loads of lbw appeals, outside edges and chinese cuts but Smith, as ever, persevered to a half-century, and Hashim Amla was looking in ominous touch after having started off scratchily.
India's trio of quick bowlers - Zaheer Khan, Mohammed Shami and Ishant - had been bowling impressively in the second session, without much going their way, underlined by R Ashwin putting down a low chance at first slip. There was some uneven bounce on offer, the ball was moving around, and India had three quicks who were bowling well together after a long time, but South Africa somehow managed to lose just one wicket in 38 overs.
Shami joined in the party and de Villiers joined the list of batsmen who were hesitant to get on the front foot. It was looking bleak for South Africa when Shami's persistent back-of-a-length bowling was rewarded by JP Duminy nicking to slip. India's recent home success has been built on spin, but today it was all about their pace bowlers as Ashwin was used for only two overs in the first 55.
Zaheer's fitness was on display as he went through 22 overs without tiring, and he constantly bowled in the mid-130s, speeds which he couldn't consistently manage before his axeing. He was also on hand to provide advice to the younger bowlers, putting an arm around Shami and advising him after Philander pulled a short ball for four.
Shami extended the outstanding start to his Test career, but the man who will savour the day the most will be Ishant, reduced to a laughing stock, both on account of his average record despite playing as many as 51 Tests and also his ragged displays on the flat tracks in recent ODIs. There were promising signs early on, when he dismissed Alviro Petersen for a 10th successive low score in Tests and then greeted Amla with a couple of sharp bouncers.
Perhaps the most annoying word for Ishant-baiters is 'unlucky' - used to explain many of Ishant's performances that lacked wickets - and his spell today was veering dangerously towards being branded 'unlucky' as Smith and Amla put on 93 streaky runs. All that changed in a matter of minutes as Ishant revelled in having dismissed two of South Africa's biggest threats, and also justifying his inclusion ahead of the pacier Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar, India's first-choice quick bowler ahead of the West Indies series last month. He'll need to string together more of these spells if he is to earn the fans' trust, but this burst on an away Test against the No .1 side is a good start.
Though India's quicks were near unplayable in the hour after tea, Philander and the last specialist batsman Faf du Plessis tempered the visitors' hopes as stumps approached, sticking around for 21.3 overs and steadily eating into India's advantage. Philander took much of the strike, and though he didn't use his feet too well, he pulled and drove with authority, while du Plessis remained unbeaten thanks to Rohit Sharma putting down a sitter at slip towards close.
That miss could prove pivotal, as with the pitch getting tougher and tougher to bat on, even a slim first-innings advantage will be significant. It's been a riveting two days already in Johannesburg, and Friday promises to be another cracker. The crowds have been thin on the first two days, perhaps on the third, cricket fans will skip their work or college and turn up to watch this clash of the top two sides.
is ne bara disappoint kia mujhe aaj jeeta huwa match draw kardiya inho ne .. or is philander ne aik run nahi liya gadha
darr k kheley hein jis ki waja sy draw hua hai
کہاں اتنی سزائیں تھیں بھلا اس زندگانی میں
ہزاروں گھر ہوئے روشن جو میرا دل جلا محسنؔ