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South Africa battle back to edge ahead of India at Newlands

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Just who had the better of day one of the Freedom Series at PPC Newlands on Friday will in all probability not be clarified until well into day two. The Proteas found themselves on 12/3 after winning the toss and deciding to bat first under hazardous conditions to three testing overs from Bhuvneshwar Kumar but critically still had AB de Villiers at the crease.

The Proteas returning warrior launched a calculated counter-attack that set the mood for the rest of the innings as he and his captain, Faf du Plessis, shared a stand of 114 that enabled the Proteas to score 107/3 in the first session and then 123/4 in the second.

Their final total of 286 coming at a rate of almost four to the over must have exceeded their expectations after the first half-hour’s play.

In reply India closed on 28/3 but had critically lost the wicket of their captain, Virat Kohli, to the first delivery sent down by Morne Morkel, coming on at first change behind Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn who between them accounted for both the Indian opening batsmen.

As always it is better to pass judgment on who holds the advantage until both sides have completed their first innings but with 13 wickets having already fallen for 314 runs the match is moving forward very rapidly and there is nothing to suggest that batting conditions are going to become any easier. If anything, the pitch should become quicker – a point made by Du Plessis when he explained his decision to bat first at the toss – and inconsistent bounce could also come into the equation in the second half of the match.

It is still early days in the career of Ottis Gibson as the Proteas head coach but, if today was anything to go by, he is bringing a touch of Calypso style to the team from his native Caribbean. In the first place the Proteas opted for the attacking option of choosing four specialist pace bowlers plus the spin variety of Keshav Maharaj, in the second the team opted to bat first when bowling may have been a softer option, and in the third the batting line-up struck 39 fours and 2 sixes which, apart from anything else, was largely responsible for a cash injection of R79 500 into the Sunfoil Education Trust (SET) from the number of boundaries and sixes hit and wickets taken.

It added up to a day of high entertainment thoroughly enjoyed by a crowd of close on 15,000.

Both De Villiers and Du Plessis hit 10 centuries in reaching their half-centuries and this was followed by the 60 that Quinton de Kock and Philander put on for the sixth wicket in just 9 overs.

There was also the justification for the line-up chosen with the first five wicket partnerships contributing 142 runs and the last five 144.

India’s attack was superbly led by Kumar who deserved a five-wicket haul but had to settle for 4/87 from his 19 overs. Jasprit Bumrah, chosen for his debut Test, started what should be a substantial career with the wicket of De Villiers while the all-rounder, Hardik Pandya, also proved his worth.

They will, however, reflect on what a dropped chance by Shikhar Dhawan at third slip cost them as it enabled Maharaj to rally the lower-order with an invaluable innings of 35. It is margins of this sort that could well determine which side comes out on top.