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De Villiers hits back after Bhuvneshwar’s burst

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South Africa 107 for 3 (De Villiers 59*, du Plessis 37*, Bhuvneshwar 3-39) v India
Live Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

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Bhuvneshwar Kumar began his tour of South Africa with three wickets in his first three overs. This after India were asked to bowl. But was much as they exploited helpful conditions, they may also have overdone it. The desire to conjure wickets virtually every other minute had them overpitching and sliding onto the pads, which allowed the hosts enough opportunities to recover. At lunch, the two men at the crease – AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis – had put on 95 runs at 4.5 per over.

India’s team management would have a few things to discuss over the break. They would – and should – acknowledge that having the opposition 12 for 3 in the fifth over on an away tour was success the likes only their dreams could match. And it was all beautifully planned.

Dean Elgar often gets squared up at the crease and a vast majority of his dismissals against pace has been caught behind or in the cordon. So here, he was forced to deal with a back of a length ball pitching on off stump and seaming away. He had to play. Then he had to go. A line-up with only five specialist batsmen lost its highest scorer of 2017.

Aiden Markram was caught so badly unawares that he was lbw not playing a shot. Okay, that’s not quite true. He was trying desperately to bring his bat in line with a good length delivery pitching outside off and jagging back in but he just wasn’t quick enough. The young opener basically strung himself up with his habit of shuffling across and playing around his front pad.

The third wicket of this phenomenal spell was probably the most important of them all. But it was the least sexy. Hashim Amla poked well away from his body and Wriddhiman Saha picked up his second catch of the first half hour, much to the cacophonous delight of the slip fielders beside him. Oddly, Ajinkya Rahane was not among that number with India choosing to go in with Rohit Sharma, a batsman in better recent form.

That is certainly an advantage, but not quite a necessity as de Villiers showed for the rest of the morning. He sent his first ball through midwicket for a crisp boundary. He struck India’s best bowler Bhuvneshwar for four fours in an over. He played late. He met the ball close to his body. He used soft hands. And he punished anything even remotely short. In essence, de Villiers, in only his third day of Test cricket since January 2016, presented the template of how to bat on a grassy pitch. He went to lunch on 59 off 65 balls, making clear his appetite for the longest format remains intact.

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