Hardik Pandya went on a thrilling counter-attack but could not prevent South Africa from finishing on top on the second day of the first Test at Newlands on Saturday.
Pandya scored a swashbuckling 93, then took two wickets, but South Africa built on a first innings lead of 77 and were 65 for two at the close, an overall lead of 142 on a pitch which has helped fast bowlers.
India had slumped to 92 for seven in reply to South Africa’s first innings total of 286 when Pandya found a determined ally in Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
While 24-year-old Pandya went for his shots, Kumar took 34 balls to score his first run but then played some fine strokes of his own, scoring 25 in an eighth wicket partnership of 99 which more than doubled their team’s total.
The partnership frustrated the South African bowlers and kept them in the field long enough for Dale Steyn to give South Africa another injury scare.
Steyn, in his first Test match since suffering a fractured shoulder in Australia in November 2014, had taken two for 51 when he pulled up with a bruised heel and left the field three balls into his 18th over.
After treatment in the dressing room he was sent for a scan.
Steyn would have hoped to end Pandya’s innings — and hasten the demise of the Indian batting effort — long before he was called upon to bowl a fourth spell in what was his longest and most intensive bowling effort since his shoulder injury.
Hardik Pandya struggled against Steyn early in his innings. He survived on a review after being given out, caught behind off the fast bowler on five and was dropped by Dean Elgar at gully off Steyn when he had 15.
Pandya, 24, confirmed the reputation he earned as a dashing stroke player, first in limited overs cricket and more recently when he scored 178 runs off 168 balls in three Test innings in Sri Lanka last year, including 108 off 96 deliveries in the third Test in Kandy.
He hit 14 fours on Saturday as well as a six off left-arm spinner Keshav Maharaj’s second ball of the match. He charged out to the next ball and should have been stumped with his score on 71.
Kumar was caught behind off Morne Morkel when Hardik Pandya was on 85.
Hardik Pandya is hero with both bat and ball as his 93 runs with the bat and 2 wickets with the ball keep India alive in the 1st Test.
— ICC (@ICC) January 6, 2018
If anything, Hardik Pandya stepped up his aggressive attitude after the dismissal of Kumar, swinging at a succession of short-pitched deliveries from Morkel and Kagiso Rabada.
His luck ran out when he flashed at a lifting ball from Rabada and was caught behind.
Rabada finished with three for 34, while Vernon Philander took three for 33. Morkel and Steyn shared the other four wickets.
Pandya’s innings was in contrast to the struggles of most of the other Indian batsmen who were kept under pressure by South Africa’s barrage of four fast bowlers.
Chetashwar Pujara laboured to 26 off 92 balls, while Rohit Sharma took 59 balls to score 11.
South Africa made a good start to their second innings, with Aiden Markram and Dean Elgar putting on 52 for the first wicket before Pandya dismissed both openers in successive overs.