Kagiso Rabada was at his lethal best, knocking the stuffing out of India’s batting ‘prima donnas’ with a fifer on a track offering extra and variable bounce as South Africa took control of the proceedings on the opening day of the first Test on Tuesday. KL Rahul (70 batting, 105 balls) continued his love affair with Supersport Park, displaying excellent temperament on a difficult pitch taking India to 208 for 8 in 59 overs when rain forced early stumps. Rabada (5/44 in 17 overs) bowled two of the most intimidating and incisive spells witnessed in recent times to completely rock the Indian batting line-up, which struggled to cope with the conditions. One of the finest fast bowlers in contemporary cricket, Rabada bowled an absolute peach to dismiss Virat Kohli (38 off 64 balls) with the old ball after having bounced out Indian skipper Rohit Sharma (5) in his first spell.
In between, Shreyas Iyer (31 off 50 balls), who lived dangerously, got a shooter that completely exposed his defence.
Rabada’s 14th five-wicket haul in Tests also comprised the scalp of Ravichandran Ashwin, who was flummoxed by the extra bounce, and Shardul Thakur (24), who after a gutsy effort was softened by a bouncer to be taken out with a length delivery later.
Rahul looked solid but is slowly running out of partners as a first innings score of 250 looks a distant reality now.
Rabada, who was given a break from white ball leg, didn’t need time to hit the rhythm as he bowled long spells, got a disconcerting bounce along with late swing that had the Indian batters in a tangle.
The manner in which Kohli was forced into making a mistake was an education for young pacers.
Rabada bowled a couple of incoming deliveries to pin him on the backfoot and then unleashed his deadly weapon.
He made a nearly 31-over-old Kookaburra to move in and kept it on fuller length as Kohli shaped himself to play inside the line of the delivery.
But to his amazement, the ball pitched and deviated late to take the outside edge en route to keeper Kyle Verreynne’s hands.
Kohli got a massive reprieve in the first session when he was on four as Tony de Zorzi dropped a dolly at square leg off debutant Nandre Burger (2/39) but he then carried out the repair work with Iyer.
At the toss, Temba Bavuma took the expected decision of bowling first and his bowlers did make the best use of the conditions during that initial hour.
The steep tennis-ball like bounce was always going to create problems for the star-studded Indian line-up which for the last six months has played only white ball formats.
Realising the compulsive puller inside Rohit, his opposite number Bavuma, who later limped off with a left-hamstring strain, stationed a long leg fielder just like all international skippers deploy across formats.
Having bowled in and around the off-stump, Rabada dug one short but the height was just above the waist and Rohit bit the bait, going for the pull.
Burger standing at least 10 metres inside the long-leg boundary had to just complete the formalities.
Young Yashasvi Jaiswal, all of two Tests, was initially playing close to his body, which allowed the away going deliveries to just miss his bat.
He did clip Rabada through mid-wicket and also square cut Burger for boundaries.
Bowling slightly on the fourth stump channel, the left-arm paceman altered his line and pitched one on fuller length on the off-stump.
The ball held its line and enticed Jaiswal to go for a drive and the nick was accepted by Verreynne behind the stumps.
But the delivery that Burger bowled to dismiss Gill was a classic set-up.
He kept the stylish right-hander quiet with back-of-length deliveries on the middle-leg line, not giving him any room to play on the off-side.
Similar to New Zealand left-arm pacer Neil Wagner, who relentlessly bowls the rib-cage line to the right-handers, Burger changed his tactic and kept one right below Gill’s arm-pit and the batter didn’t have enough reaction time to prevent it from brushing his gloves on its way to the keeper’s gloves.
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