After an early jolt, South Africa builds on a narrow lead on a rain-affected third day

Virat Kohli’s innings was as much about heart as ability. As much about flair as substance.

Timing is the essence for Kohli. He not only meets the ball from the sweet portion of his willow but times his performances when his team needs him most.

Kohli’s 153 in an adverse situation saw him fighting the fires that threatened to consume the innings. His was an innings of character and resilience.

India got to 307, just 28 runs behind South Africa’s first innings effort on the third day of the second Test at SuperSport Park. Then, the host, after being jolted early by a fiery Jasprit Bumrah, was 90 for two in its second innings when bad light, after a spell of rain, ended play early.

A.B. de Villiers (50), stroking with a lightness of feet and deft touch, and a battling Dean Elgar (36) were at stumps.

Change in surface

The dry surface here, more sub-continental than South African in nature, could give increasing purchase to R. Ashwin, so impressive with his control and variety in the South African first innings, on day four.

And a few developing cracks from one end could enable the seamers send down effective cutters too. If India strikes early on Tuesday, this game might have many possibilities.

Bumrah sent down an inspired spell. He took out Aiden Markram and big fish Hashim Amla with deliveries that came back sharply.

The lanky paceman bowled with hostility, straightening the odd delivery, extracting lift and striking the batsmen on the knuckles. The paceman almost yorked de Villiers first ball.

He should have got the left-handed Elgar (on 29 then) when the batsman edged a brute of a lifter but Parthiv Patel failed to react when the ball was within catching distance for a ’keeper.

And Ashwin, bowling with the new ball, did cause some anxious moments to Elgar and was unlucky not to find the edge.

Earlier, Kohli delighted. There were occasions when Faf du Plessis kept the mid-wicket open to tempt Kohli to play across for a leg-before verdict but he collected runs with flourish in that area.

His own methods

And Kohli’s driving through the off-side field was gorgeous. His body and mind were in harmony as he smoked the good length deliveries from the pacemen through the off-side field with his front foot well stretched out.

Being a bottom-handed batsman, the cover-drive is not the easiest of strokes for Kohli to execute but he created room with nimble footwork, employed his wrists to stroke the ball through the gaps. Despite his short back-lift, Kohli generates enormous power with his bat speed and wrists.

When the ball was dug in short from Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, and Lungi Ngidi, Kohli, transferring weight to his back-leg, often got on top of the bounce, either to keep the ball down, slice it past point or essay the pull.

The Indian captain found the right balance between attack and defence during an innings that became his highest Test score against South Africa.

In the morning, India lost Hardik Pandya in a bizarre fashion after the all-rounder seemingly made his ground but his feet and bat were still in the air when Vernon Philander hit the stumps from mid-on.

Ashwin came in and counter-attacked, creaming Rabada for three successive boundaries between point and cover after being struck a painful blow on his left thumb by a lifter.

Philander, eventually, ended the fighting 71-run seventh-wicket partnership when he had Ashwin — earlier taken on the bounce by de Villiers off Rabada in the cordon — acrobatically caught by a leaping du Plessis at second slip with the second new ball.

Proteas pacers impress

The South African paceman, taller and stronger, were able to get more bounce out of the surface.

Morkel extracted lift, and posed tough questions to the batsmen even on this surface. Rabada bowed fast, got a few to seam back and move away.

And debutant Ngidi, who has an explosive release from an open-chested action, consistently bowled with at around 145 kmph and in good areas.

And left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj, who got a fluent Murali Vijay (46) caught behind in the first innings, could be a factor too. It will not be easy for India when it bats again.