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Mayank agarwal

Ashwin, Jadeja strike thrice after Agarwal’s maiden double ton

After a wicketless opening day, South Africa finally found fruit for their toil, nipping out seven Indian wickets, but not before Rohit Sharma had made another of his daddy hundreds, Mayank Agarwal had raised his first Test century – and converted it into a double – and India had racked up 502/7 and declared.

Given 20 overs to bat, South Africa’s worst fears then came true, as India’s spin duo of R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja struck thrice to leave them facing an uphill battle for the rest of the Test.

By stumps, South Africa had slid to 39/3, still trailing by 463 runs, with Temba Bavuma having been given a life, after Hanuma Vihari put down a sharp reflex catch at forward short leg off Jadeja. He ended the day having moved to a scratchy 2*, and was accompanied by Dean Elgar, who was not out on 27.

Walking out to clear weather, after rain had prematurely ended the opening day’s play after just 59.1 overs, India’s openers marched on with relentless ease. As was the case on the first day, the signs were quick to emerge that South Africa’s bowlers would have no respite, as Rohit tickled Vernon Philander fine for four on the second ball of the morning.

By the time the second new ball became available, 20 overs into the day, Rohit and Agarwal had cracked 14 fours and a six in the session. That’s a boundary once every 8.3 balls. South Africa chose to continue operating with their spinners for the time being, though, and it worked. Two overs after the second new ball became available, left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj struck at long last. Having been carted for a six and a four through the long-off region off consecutive balls, Maharaj dared to loop one up to Rohit, who this time was beaten by the turn and flight to be stumped one short of his best Test score.

That ended India’s opening stand at 317, marking only the third instance of an Indian opening pair putting together 300 or more in a Test innings. Further wickets arrived as India tried to force the pace and push towards a quick declaration, having lost time to rain on the first day.

The second new ball was taken four overs before lunch; on the first ball after the break, Philander castled Pujara with a superb outswinger that nipped away from a middle-stump line and beat the outside edge to peg back his off stump.

Virat Kohli, too, fell early, after playing against the turn to find the leading edge and give debutant Senuran Muthusamy a return catch and his first Test wicket. Unperturbed, Agarwal continued to unleash some audacious strokes. A clean swipe against Maharaj over long-off for six took him into the 190s. The double came five overs later, with a neat drive down the ground off the same bowler. In all, Agarwal struck 77 of his 215 runs - 35% of his total - off Maharaj.

By now, it had become apparent that India were trying to step on the pedal. Agarwal finally perished in the 120th over, slugging a full toss from Dean Elgar straight to deep midwicket. Two overs prior, Rahane had picked out cover with an uppish drive. Wickets continued to arrive thereafter, even as Jadeja and Wriddhiman Saha entertained with cameos, before the declaration arrived, just about an hour after tea.

Plenty of nervous moments characterised the last hour of play. Markram was the first to succumb, when Ashwin barged through his defences to take out his stumps with just 14 on the board. Theunis de Bruyn was undone by some subtle flight that pulled his backfoot out of the crease, leaving Wriddhiman Saha to pull off a superb stumping, before it emerged that the batsman had also nicked the ball off the inside edge.

Dane Piedt, the nightwatchman, hung around for just four balls before being sent back by a ripper from Jadeja. By stumps, the two unbeaten batsmen had hardly given any more encouraging signs that they could dig in.

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