Rahul century, Agarwal fifty help India dominate day one

Centurion, Dec 26 (IANS) A sublime century by KL Rahul, his fifth Test hundred outside Asia, along with a half-century from Mayank Agarwal helped India dominate day one of Boxing Day Test at the SuperSport Park here on Sunday.

At stumps, India are 272/3 in 90 overs with Rahul (batting 122) and Ajinkya Rahane (batting 40) at the crease on a day that totally belonged to the tourists. For the hosts, Lungi Ngidi was the only wicket-taker with 3/45 in 17 overs. Rahul stitched partnerships with Agarwal for India’s first century opening stand since 2010 before putting 82 and 73 runs with Virat Kohli and Rahane, respectively.

Electing to bat first on a semi-lively pitch, India made the most of a South Africa attack which was lacklustre in the start but got into the groove as the day progressed. But the day belonged to Rahul, who was assertive in doing what was needed of him as an opener: leaving balls outside the off-stump, not being rattled by short-ball examination, creaming the drives, and showing patience on an excellent day for his side.

In the first hour of the day, South Africa employed four pace options in Kagiso Rabada, Lungi Ngidi, Wiaan Mulder, and debutant Marco Jansen. But none of them were able to put Rahul and Agarwal in trouble. Rahul was extremely compact with his leaves while Agarwal fetched India’s first boundary with a square drive off Ngidi.

Five overs later, Rahul got his first boundary with a straight-bat drive past mid-off off Rabada. Jansen, coming in at first-change, got hit for three boundaries as Agarwal drove him through the off-side while flicking him twice through mid-wicket. Jansen came under further attack from Agarwal as the right-hander smashed successive boundaries on both sides of the wicket. On the next ball, Agarwal was dropped on 36 by keeper Quinton de Kock, spoiling South Africa’s first genuine chance of getting a breakthrough.

The Karnataka duo complemented each other by capitalising on South Africa’s errors with line and length. Agarwal reaching his half-century with a creamy drive through long-off off Jansen. Jansen would come under further attack from Rahul, clipping him through mid-wicket and an outer edge flying through slip cordon as the pair brought up the century of the opening wicket, marking it just the third hundred-plus opening stand for India in South Africa.

Rahul gained pace as he drove Mulder twice through sweeper-cover while Agarwal tucked a short ball from Ngidi through fine leg. But on the next ball, Ngidi trapped Agarwal lbw with a delivery that came in from back of a length and hit pads after going past the inner edge. South Africa took the review and got to change the decision as ball-tracking showed it was hitting the top of leg-stump, ending India’s opening stand at 117.

One brought two for Ngidi as he bowled a fiery in-swinger which Cheteshwar Pujara inner-edged to his thigh and ball lobbed to Keegan Petersen running in from backward short leg. It was also the second time Pujara bagged a golden duck in his Test career. Coincidentally, both came at Centurion and had Ngidi involved (in 2018, he affected the run-out of Pujara).

Rahul brought up his fifty with a nicely-timed cover drive off Ngidi. Kohli was off the mark by leaning into the cover drive off Jansen and followed it up with a clip through mid-on off left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj. Rahul and Kohli kept the scoreboard ticking till tea.

Kohli then began the final session with a flick through square-leg off Maharaj. Rabada troubled him a bit but Kohli came forward and unfurled his cover drive. Rahul too was troubled by Rabada but managed to caress a drive through extra cover.

Rahul then went on to smack Maharaj for a pulled four through mid-wicket, followed by dancing down the pitch to hit a six over long-on. Ngidi bowled seven consecutive dot balls to Kohli and on the eighth ball, in a bid to break free, Kohli chased a delivery wide outside the off-stump and gave an easy catch to Mulder at first slip.

Rahane was off the mark on his second ball, creaming a Ngidi half-volley through the cover. He began to deal in boundaries, slicing Ngidi through off-side, flicking Jansen through mid-wicket, cutting off backfoot through backward point off Maharaj, and punching off backfoot through cover over off Mulder.

Rahul brought up his seventh Test century by steering Maharaj through backward point despite a desperate dive by Keegan Petersen. He also became the second Indian opener to score a Test century in South Africa after Wasim Jaffer’s 116 at Cape Town in 2007. After reaching his hundred, Rahul upper-cut Jansen over the slip cordon.

Rahane, on the other hand, leaned into a square drive off Jansen and nailed an along the ground pull on a bouncer from Rabada through backward square leg. Rahul took another boundary off Maharaj with a punch through point and hung around to put India in a dominating position at stumps.

Brief scores: India 272/3 in 90 overs (KL Rahul 122 not out, Mayank Agarwal 60, Lungi Ngidi 3/45) against South Africa


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