Petersen leads South Africa response after Pant’s stunning century

South Africa

South Africa 210 and 101 for 2 (Petersen 48*, Elgar 30, Shami 1-22) need another 111 runs to beat India 223 and 198 (Pant 100*, Jansen 4-36, Rabada 3-53, Ngidi 3-21)

Rishabh Pant is a shot-maker of such quality that he can take the conditions out of the equation, and for 100 runs and 139 balls in Cape Town he did just that. This wasn’t so much a Test match innings as it was a display of jaw-dropping daredevilry. And at the end of it, India had a lead of 211 and a real chance at making history.
South Africa, who to their immense credit finished 101 for 2, were under siege in the chase, not just from the bowlers but from a very chirpy Virat Kohli. Once, when he was running across from one end of the field to the other, he looked at Dean Elgar and Keegan Petersen and said “Just relax guys. I can hear your heartbeat.”

R Ashwin to Elgar. He bowls a beautiful offbreak. Tossed up from around the wicket, drifting in late, drifting in big. The left-hander prepares to nudge the ball into the leg side. He brings down a straight bat. But this drift. It is too much. It takes the ball clean past the inside edge and hits him on the front pad.

Umpire Marais Erasmus puts the finger up immediately. But ball-tracking told a different story. Bouncing over leg stump.

Ashwin was completely unimpressed. “Find better ways to win, SuperSport,” he said. Kohli was livid. He took an almighty kick at the turf, then walked right up to the stump mic and said, “focus on your team as well while they shine the ball, eh? Not just the opposition. Trying to catch people all the time.” KL Rahul chimed in with “whole country playing against 11 guys.”

India were rage-mode. Elgar did so very well to resist them but he just couldn’t hold out. The South African captain fell off what turned out to be the last ball of the day. So now the game is in the hands of a virtual rookie. Petersen has earned praise from all corners – and he batted befitting all of it – making 48 unbeaten runs. The longer he lasts in the middle tomorrow the better it will be for his side. After all, they are almost halfway to the target with eight wickets still in hand.

Long before all this tension though, there was nothing but magic. Magic from a man named Pant.

Watching him on the field really takes you back to your childhood, back when you were running around with your brothers and your sisters and your best friends, all in search of nearest empty piece of land to play a little bit of cricket. The driveway at home. The hallway at school. Anywhere you can show off. Be silly. And bring joy.

Bring joy to the most important people in your life simply by doing something you love.

As adults, we grow out of that phase. Rishabh, it seems, just knows better.

There was a moment, as he was nearing his century, when he chased one that was so far wide of off stump that he began to overbalance. But, instead of stopping himself and preparing to face the next ball, he just went with the flow and pretend ran a double on a pretend pitch between point and the stumps at the keeper’s end.

Raucous laughter rang out in response. Most of it would have been from the Indian dressing room but can you really rule out a smile from a South African face? After all, when he attempted a reverse scoop off the 6’8″ Marco Jansen and failed to connect, Hashim Amla on the broadcast said, “I would have loved to have seen that come off.”

This is Rishabh Pant. He is such a thrillingly free spirit that everyone just falls in love with him.

Entertaining the masses is one thing. As part of a high-performing sports team, he is also committed to winning and to do that at Newlands he needed to do more than just have a whack.

Pant walked out after two quick wickets – Cheteshwar Pujara and Ajinkya Rahane undone by extra bounce. And within seven balls he was smelling leather. Kagiso Rabada decided to test him with the short ball but Pant was ready. He rocked back and pulled South Africa’s pace ace to the square leg boundary to get off the mark.

There were other shots like that too. Shots straight out of a dream. 34th over. A down the track slap off Duanne Olivier that was all kinds of impudent. 48th over. A one-handed slog sweep. For six. 60th over. A flay over point that didn’t fetch a single run but will still make the highlights because he went so hard at it that he lost the grip on his bat and it went flying.

Pant defied logic for every second he was out there. If you want any more evidence of that, look down the scorecard, look for the next best score.

Kohli 29 off 143.

That was a superb innings as well. He may not have the runs to show for it but his presence in the middle prevented the team from collapsing. Solid doesn’t come close to describing the India captain at the crease. But this should: he played a false shot once every 12 balls in a match where there was one every six balls.

Kohli wasn’t just good. He was twice as good as everybody else.

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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