Rahul, Ojha shine as South Africans toil

South Africans 42 for 2 trail Indian Board President’s XI 296 (Rahul 72, Naman Ojha 52, Steyn 3-46) by 254 runs

Naman Ojha held the lower order with an 80-ball 52 after KL Rahul and Karun Nair kept the South Africans at bay in the first half of the day © Associated Press

The South Africans were given a taste of the toil that awaits them in the upcoming Test series after they spent all but 20 minutes of the day on the field before losing two wickets against the Indian Board President’s XI in their only warm-up fixture at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai.

But the visitors learnt two valuable things from their prolonged stay in the sun: that Imran Tahir may be ready for a Test return ahead of Dane Piedt and Kagiso Rabada can be introduced at some stage in the series.

Tahir, who carried drinks in the morning, was only introduced into the attack 10 minutes before tea. He bowled six overs and was the most effective of the three spinners in operation. Although the wicket he claimed – that of Sheldon Jackson who tried to launch him down the ground – was more a result of Dale Steyn‘s athletic catching than his own ingenuity, Tahir asked more questions than the offspinners.

Piedt, making a return to the highest level after a shoulder injury, was expensive and struggled for control. Simon Harmer was better and bowled cleverly at the end of the innings but neither would have inspired the confidence Tahir did. Piedt bowled like a man who understood he was competing for a place and delivered a succinct reason for why that place should be his.

Rabada ran in the same way. He bowled three spells in the first two sessions, when the other seamers had only bowled two each, and showed an understanding of the areas and the lengths needed at this level. With only 14 first-class matches to his name, Rabada’s longer-form match awareness was impressive.

Both Tahir and Rabada were only in action after Steyn and Vernon Philander had done what they do best as a new-ball pair, clinically carving through the President’s XI top order.

The first wicket fell on the fifth ball of the morning when Unmukt Chand edged Steyn to Hashim Amla at first slip. It was the kind of dismissal Philander has made a career out of and five overs later, he showed why. After flirting with Chesteshwar Pujara’s outside edge, Philander finally found it to end a disappointing outing for the opposition captain.

Shreyas Iyer was the next victim, edging to wicketkeeper Dane Vilas, who had a solid outing in his first experience on this tour. Vilas caught all three chances that came his way and like all good wicketkeepers, went relatively unnoticed otherwise.

At 35 for 3, the South Africans may have hoped to bat quickly, but KL Rahul and Karun Nair denied them. Rahul, who watched wickets fall from the other end, tightened his own game to avoid falling into the off-stump trap even when the South Africans’ second wave of seamers arrived.

Morne Morkel bowled an opening spell of three overs and followed that up with a one of two overs upon his return from a quad injury, even as Rabada constantly threatened. Some relief came in the form of the medium-pacers and the spinners, which may concern the South Africans as Harmer and Piedt could not find a way though.

Rahul was strong on the drive and found runs behind square. He brought up 50 off 92 balls, with 80% of those runs scored in boundaries. Nair also found gaps in the field more easily than singles and it took the reintroduction of Philander to stabilise the visitors. He had Nair caught behind after lunch and continued to beat the bat until late in the day to begin answering some of the questions about his ability on subcontinental surfaces.

Rahul looked well set, but perished while trying to accelerate, as a flick off Harmer found Faf du Plessis at short fine leg. With the two set men out, the South Africans may have fancied running through the President’s XI but Naman Ojha and Jackson were stubborn in their defence.

While the heat and humidity began to take its toll on the visitors, Ojha milked them and brought up a half-century off 76 balls. Again, one of the front-liners had to be called, as Steyn came back after tea to dismiss Ojha in the slips off his first ball. But the President’s XI tail remained resolute and thwarted the South Africans, who put their seamers away as they day grew long, leaving Piedt and Hamer to finish off, which they did.

Hardik Pandya made them work for his wicket, and enjoyed flaying the spinners about before falling to Piedt, who was rewarded with a wicket right at the end.

South Africa’s day got longer when Shardul Thakur demanded the full attention of their batsmen, who were flagging. Dean Elgar played and missed several times before being caught, and nightwatchman Harmer was bowled off the last ball of the day, leaving South Africa’s specialist batsmen with a full day to turn the tide tomorrow.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo’s South Africa correspondent

ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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