South Africa was 118-2 at stumps Wednesday, chasing 240 to win the second test and level the series against India, setting up a potentially fascinating finish to the game at the Wanderers.
The test swung back and forth on Day 3 as India put itself on the brink of a dominant, series-clinching position in its second innings at 155-2, only to falter and lose its last eight wickets for 110 runs.
India were ultimately bowled out for 266, giving South Africa a sight at victory and a chance to send the series to a deciding test in Cape Town next week. South Africa were 122 runs away from doing that with eight wickets left.
But nothing was guaranteed on a wearing Wanderers surface that has hassled batters throughout the first three days and with India’s four-man pace attack looking threatening.
India’s bowlers struck twice before the close, removing Aiden Markram for 31 when the opener was getting into his stride. Medium-pacer Shardul Thakur had that breakthrough to add to this superb seven-wicket haul in the first innings.
Ravichandran Ashwin trapped Keegan Petersen lbw for 28 to see the back of South Africa’s top scorer in the first innings. It was also a rare wicket for a slow bowler in this test.
South Africa captain Dean Elgar held firm through to stumps for his 46 not out, and after being hit on the grill of his helmet by a bouncer from Jasprit Bumrah. Rassie van der Dussen fought for over an hour alongside Elgar for his 11 not out.
Top-ranked India has never won a Test series in South Africa and can change that with victory in Johannesburg after a big win in the first test.
It seemed a likely outcome earlier on the third day when the experienced pair of Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane reached half-centuries and put on a 111-run stand for the third wicket for India.
At that stage, India appeared to be on the way to set South Africa an unreachable target.
Kagiso Rabada intervened with a three-wicket burst before lunch, removing Rahane for 58, Pujara for 53 and the dangerous Rishabh Pant for a duck.
He found support from fellow fast bowler Lungi Ngidi and India was on the rack — only to bounce back.
Hanuma Vihari, a late call up to the India team after captain Virat Kohli was ruled out with injury, provided solid resistance for his 40 not out, and Thakur showed his ability with the bat to help set a competitive target.
Thakur connected for five fours and one six in his free-swinging innings of 28. It may only have lasted 24 deliveries but the way he attacked South Africa’s bowling seemed to swing the momentum back in India’s favor.
In a marker of how good India’s bowling has been, and the extent of the challenge ahead for South Africa, the home team needs to make its highest total of the series so far to win the test.
Meanwhile, Pujara has spoken in favour of Pant, who was slammed for playing a reckless shot, which resulted in his downfall.
“Although he couldn’t score runs in this match, Rishabh has done well for us in the past. Everyone knows his game, he plays quite positively. He’s a young player and will learn what changes he could make in his game, what shots to play and not to play from such innings. He’ll definitely get those inputs from the captain and the coach after every match and every innings. As he moves forward, I think he’ll improve as a player.”