India stretched its lead over South Africa to 143 runs in the decisive final test as Rishabh Pant made an attacking and unbeaten half-century on Thursday.
Pant was 51 not out from 60 balls and captain Virat Kohli 28 not out with him, taking India to 130-4 in its second innings at lunch on day three in Cape Town and into a position of strength in its quest to finally win a Test series in South Africa.
But it didn’t come easily.
In a blistering start, South Africa struck twice in the first two overs of the day. Cheteshwar Pujara was out for 9 on the second ball of the day and to a flying catch at leg slip by Keegan Petersen.
Ajinkya Rahane followed for 1 in the next over as India, which was 57-2 overnight, suddenly found itself 58-4.
Kohli played an exceptionally cautious innings through to lunch to make sure there was no more damage, with his 28 coming off 127 balls at a strike rate of 22, an unusually defensive effort from one of the world’s most talented batsmen.
But it was what India needed after those early blows, and the tourists were heading toward a strong and possibly series-winning lead.
Kohli’s caution enabled Pant to play his natural, attacking game, and he hit four fours and a six to keep India scoring.
The three-test series is at 1-1 after India won the first match and South Africa hit back in the second, setting up a finale at Newlands. India, the top-ranked team globally, is on its eighth test tour to South Africa and still trying to clinch a first-series win in the country.
Meanwhile, Pant’s half-century was his sixth in SENA countries before turning 25, a record which no other Indian wicket-keeper achieved in their careers.