India lead South Africa by 42 on wicked Wanderers pitch

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India's bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, second from left, celebrates with teammate after dismissing South Africa's batsman Dean Elgar, on the second day of the third test at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 25. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
India’s bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar, second from left, celebrates with teammate after dismissing South Africa’s batsman Dean Elgar, on the second day of the third test at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Thursday, Jan. 25. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

Johannesburg (AP) — India’s Jasprit Bumrah took a maiden five-wicket haul and only a Hashim Amla half-century in trying circumstances gave South Africa parity in the third and final test on Thursday.

Bumrah mowed through South Africa’s middle and lower order on the green track at the Wanderers for a career-best 5-54, a return that included the prime wicket of South Africa captain Faf du Plessis, clean bowled by a ball that swung miles to clatter into the stumps as du Plessis failed to play a shot.

Bhuvneshwar Kumar contributed 3-44, and also exploited the prodigious swing and pace, as South Africa were rattled out for 194 in their first innings — a lead of just seven after India struggled to 187 batting first.

By stumps on Day 2, the third and final test was already racing toward a result with India 17 overs into their second innings and 49-1 for an overall lead of 42 runs.

South Africa have already clinched the series with an unassailable 2-0 lead. Still on offer, though, is the chance for a whitewash over the top-ranked team in the world. India saw a nine-series winning streak that took them to No. 1 come to a halt in South Africa and are playing to avoid a first whitewash in six years, and a first ever whitewash in South Africa.

Both teams have the chance to take control of the final game on Day 3: Every precious run India make on such a mean wicket for batsmen increases South Africa’s already uphill task of batting last. South Africa, with five fast bowlers in their lineup, could still wrestle control if wickets tumble early on Day 3, as they’ve done throughout the first two days.

“We haven’t played on such a wicket, I would say that,” Bumrah said. “But we are not too critical of the pitch because the match is going on, we can’t stray away from the topic. So that is the basic plan, don’t focus on the wicket. We are focusing on what we have to do right now.”

KL Rahul was 16 not out for India and Murali Vijay 13 not out at stumps. India’s experiment of opening their second innings with wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel failed as he fell for 16 to Vernon Philander.

Amla’s 61 off 121 balls, his 37th test half-century for South Africa, was an innings of guile and grit, and kept the match on an even keel when others around him were at sea.

Amla was part of the only two meaningful partnerships for South Africa as he put on 84 with nightwatchman Kagiso Rabada (30) at the start of the innings, and 44 with Vernon Philander (35) toward the end.

Apart from those three, no other South African batsman made it to double figures on a track so testing — for both sets of batsmen — that it has opened a debate over whether it’s too biased toward the fast bowlers.

“It’s quite a spicy wicket,” Amla said. “No one can hide from the fact that you can get out every ball … Whether it’s too excessive or not, if you ask a batsman what do you think they will say?”

Opener Dean Elgar fell early for South Africa without adding to his overnight score of 4. Kumar produced an in-swinger to get rid of AB de Villiers for 5 that was as impressive as Bumrah’s to du Plessis. Kumar speared his delivery through de Villiers’ defenses as South Africa lost 4-45 in the middle part of their innings.

Amla hit seven fours having decided that shuffling across his stumps and working the ball to the leg-side gave him the best opportunity to score and negate the swing and seam movement. The tactic worked for nearly four hours before Amla fell caught at deep square leg, one of Bumrah’s five wickets.