Pandya conjures up a game-changing moment with Amla’s run out

The band in the stands played an infectious rhythm and the flow and tempo of Hashim Amla’s batting was in tune with the foot-tapping music on a sunny Saturday here.

Then came a riveting moment and the contest changed course dramatically in the final hour at the SuperSport Park.

Sprinting like a gazelle in the land of the big cats, Hardik Pandya fielded the ball off his own bowling after Amla (82) had kept a lifter down and taken off for a run. He then swirled around in the manner of a ballet dancer to unleash a sizzling throw that caught Amla short at the non-striker’s end.

South Africa was 246 for three before the dismissal of Amla. It slid to 269 for six at close on the first day of the second Test.

Off-spinner R. Ashwin had southpaw Quinton de Kock taken smartly by skipper Virat Kohli at slip and Vernon Philander, committing hara kiri, became another run-out victim.

To their credit, the Indians, having lost the toss on a surface that could become drier, harder and quicker, hung in there despite the South African onslaught.

Earlier, young opener Aiden Markram impressed with a 94 of rousing strokeplay on a pitch that, on day one, had far less in it for the pacemen than the track at Newlands.

Markram was light on his feet and heavy with his strokes, driving, flicking and pulling the pacemen, dancing down to Ashwin, and forcing the ball through the gaps with a sharpshooter’s precision.

Things could have been better for India had it clung on to catches. Dean Elgar was on 14 when M. Vijay misjudged a miscued pull at deep square-leg, Jasprit Bumrah was the bowler.

And when Amla was 30, ’keeper Parthiv Patel, in for the injured Wriddhiman Saha, reacted rather late to a leg-side nick. Ishant, who had come in for Bhuvneshwar Kumar, looked up in anguish.

Amla cashed in, batting with elegance and poise, driving the pacemen through the off-side and skipping down to Ashwin for the cover-drives.

For India, Ashwin, given long spells, bowled well. He has worked on his action and is attempting to get a lot less chest-on at release. Resultantly, he is pivoting, getting his body into his action and imparting more revs on the ball.

He got the ball to drift in, varied his trajectory and consumed Markram, within a stroke of a hundred, with the one that spun away from the right-hander.

Ashwin, troubled the left-handed Elgar with his flight and turn before scalping the opener and ending the 85-run opening stand.

Stepping out to a delivery held back by Ashwin, Elgar drove uppishly but a leaping Vijay somehow managed to cling on to the ball once it got stuck on his body at silly point.

Defensive role
Ashwin bowled over and round the wicket, harnessed the angles. There were times, when to stem flow of runs, he performed a defensive role too with a middle and leg line and a packed on-side field.

For South Africa, the effervescent de Villiers sparkled briefly — he reverse-swept Ashwin — before dragging a widish Ishant delivery on to his stumps.

Ishant kept his end up but needed to bowl the off-stump line more. Mohammad Shami, who left the field owing to a headache, did not have the best of days and Bumrah needs to work on the ball that leaves the batsman to add variety to his bowling.

Pandya was patchy with the ball but conjured a moment of possibly game-changing magic.