India A 322 for 4 (Vihari 138*, Bawne 80) v South Africa A

After two sessions of domination by either side – first by South Africa A in the morning and then by India A in the afternoon – the hosts, led by Hanuma Vihari‘s unbeaten 138 and a half-century from Ankit Bawne, moved into a commanding position. The duo’s 177-run partnership for the fourth wicket ensured that no matter how the day had started, India had the advantage at the close, reaching 322 for 4 at stumps on the opening day of the second four-day game in Alur.

Asked to bat under overcast conditions, the India A openers Prithvi Shaw and Mayank Agarwal failed to recreate their wonderful form from the first unofficial Test. They had put on a 277-run stand in Bengaluru only last week, but both batsmen fell inside the first hour of play to South Africa’s new-ball bowlers, who utilised a strong cross-wind from the east to generate enough lateral movement early on. Stand-in captain Dane Piedt’s gamble – to make first use of the Alur surface – seemed to pay off as India stumbled to 18 for 2.

Mayank, who smashed 220 last week, was out on the day’s fourth delivery, when a length ball from Duanne Olivier zipped away and took the outside edge of his attempted cover drive. From the other end, Anrich Nortje – in for the rested Beuran Hendricks – applied the pressure too, forcing Shaw to edge his front-foot drives – either over or past the slip cordon on three occasions – before being caught behind trying to punch through the off-side. Shreyas Iyer, the captain, then played a free-flowing innings of 39 – including six fours in 54 balls – but when he sliced a catch to cover in the 24th over, the visitors were well and truly on top as the umpires called for lunch.

The South Africans were welcomed by team-mates and their support staff with a loud round of applause after a job well done in the day’s first couple of hours, but that’s where the visitors’ authority over the day’s proceedings ended. After lunch, Vihari and Bawne started cautiously, blocking out Olivier and Nortje’s new spells, but as soon as spin was introduced into the attack, the two batsmen began to hit their stride.

Senuran Muthusamy, South Africa’s left-arm spinner with roots in Chennai, found ample support from the little crowd that had turned up at the KSCA Ground. But he failed to convert those cheers into a productive spell. Motivated, perhaps, by the shouts of “c’mon, Muthu” from the spectators, Muthusamy chose to toss the ball up with more regularity after lunch, and there began South Africa’s downfall.

Neither Vihari nor Bawne were afraid to use their feet to Muthusamy and Piedt, driving and whipping anything that landed near their toes, and by tea, they had already put on 102 runs. The duo took particular liking to Piedt’s loopy offspinners, putting away anything that landed too full, including a sweep in the 44th over that brought up Vihari’s second fifty-plus score of the series. When the teams walked in after the tea break, the momentum had completely shifted and so had the mood as the Indians welcomed the two unbeaten batsmen with thundering applause.

After tea, it was more of the same from Vihari and Bawne. A drive to long on brought up Bawne’s 29th first-class fifty. Vihari then took charge, crunching back-to-back boundaries, and soon navigated to his 15th first-class century, much to the delight of coach Rahul Dravid, who circumnavigated 13 times around the boundary-line between the lunch and tea sessions. The partnership was eventually broken in the 75th over by Piedt, with Bawne looking to repeat a six over long-on from the previous over. However, the ball sneaked under his bat and he was stumped for a well composed 80.

With 15 overs to go in the day’s play, and the skies going dark once again, in came Srikar Bharat to give state-mate Vihari company. But the wicketkeeper-batsman looked tentative in the middle, top-edging a boundary over the keeper and thick-edging a drive down to third man at the start. Seeing this, South Africa took the new ball in the 82nd over, but Vihari and Bharat staved off the challenge, knocking around singles and twos while finding the occasional boundary. They posted a brisk, unbeaten 65-run stand by stumps to take India past 300.

Earlier, Iyer’s 62-run stand with Vihari – who moved up two batting spots to No. 3 for this game – had helped India recover after a shaky start, following a spell of play that saw more runs come off the edges than off the middle. By the time Iyer was dismissed, the sun was beginning to peep out of the gloomy skies – much to the relief of the batting side. Nortje’s new-ball spell from the South End, and his return spell after lunch from the North End kept Shaw, Vihari, Iyer and Bawne on their toes, but his spell wasn’t penetrative enough to prise out another wicket. And having seen off the more dangerous Nortje and Olivier for the most part as the day, India walloped medium-pacer Mthiwekhaya Nabe for 46 in ten overs and Muthusamy for 51 off 12 to push the run-rate up whenever it looked like flatlining.

South Africa had made the surprising decision to rest their captain Khaya Zondo in lieu of Rassie van der Dussen while Nortke’s inclusion was the other change. For India, top-order batsman R Samarth was swapped out for Bawne, while Abhimanyu Easwaran, Shahbaz Nadeem and Rajneesh Gurbani were the other squad members left out.

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