Mohali, Nov 5 (IANS) Part-time spinner Dean Elgar wreaked havoc on the Indian batting order as South Africa enjoyed the upper hand on the opening of the first Test being played at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium here on Thursday. Elgar – better known as an opening batsman – returned figures of 4/22 with his slow left-armer as the hosts were dismissed for 201 in their first innings shortly after tea. The Indians hit back with a couple of early wickets as the Proteas ended the day at 28/2, trailing by 173 runs. Elgar and South African skipper Hashim Amla were at the crease at stumps.
Choosing to bat after winning the toss, Indian captain Virat Kohli saw his decision backfire as none of the Indian batsmen could handle the South African bowlers on a wicket which lacked the kind of pace and zip usually seen at this venue. Opener Murali Vijay was the only Indian batsman who showed some amount of application and grit as he battled his way to 75 before being trapped leg before by off-spinner Simon Harper. Elgar, who till now had taken only six wickets in his 17-Test career, proved to be the game-changer for the Proteas. Fellow spinner Imran Tahir (2/23) and pacer Vernon Philander (2/38) also bowled well. Off-spinner Simon Harmer (1/51) and fast bowler Kagiso Rabada (1/30) also claimed a wicket each. Experienced fast bowlers Dale Steyn and Philander produced appreciable swing and lateral movement with the new ball to make life difficult for the Indian batsmen. Philander provided the visitors with the early breakthrough when he had Shikhar Dhawan caught by Amla in the slips. Dhawan misjudged the movement of an outgoing delivery as the ball found the edge of the bat for a soft dismissal with the hosts yet to get off the mark. Thereon, Cheteshwar Pujara and Vijay tried to steady the innings with a 63-run second wicket partnership. Pujara seemed to be in good nick as he struck six fluid boundaries.
But the introduction of Elgar into the South African attack brought almost immediate results as the left-armer trapped Pujara leg before. It took the South Africans just four more deliveries to clinch another wicket when they dismissed Kohli for 1. The India skipper, who turned 27 on Thursday, did not have a great birthday as he mistimed a delivery from Rabada which went straight to Elgar at cover. Ajinkya Rahane and Vijay were trying to steady India’s ship after a difficult morning, but the former attempted to drive a probing delivery from Elgar only to be caught by Amla at slip. Elgar’s next delivery produced another scalp when wicketkeeper-batsman Wriddhiman Saha got out in exactly the same fashion, to be caught by Amla at the same spot for a first-ball duck. By now India had been reduced to 102/5. All-rounder Ravindra Jadeja (26 not out) struck a few boundaries to strike a 38-run sixth wicket partnership with Vijay. Vijay had played brilliantly till now but was found leg before wicket by Harmer, only to put India in deeper waters. Amit Mishra only lasted a few overs before lofting it to Dale Steyn at mid-on.
Rabada was unlucky to miss out on a wicket when he had Ravichandran Ashwin trapped leg before. Ashwin was on his way back to the pavilion, but the dismissal was overruled by the third umpire who found that Rabada had over-stepped the line after television referrals. The Indians managed some amount of damage control late in the day as South Africa started their first innings on a shaky note. Ashwin struck the first blow when he outfoxed Stiaan van Zyl with a delivery which turned sharply after pitching. Jadeja claimed a big wicket a couple of overs later when Faf du Plessis attempted to leave an incoming delivery only see the ball hit his off-stump.