Just like the first Test at Mohali, the third Test at Nagpur also seems destined to end inside two-and-a-half days, unless of course the South African batsmen pull off something miraculous on day three. Given the nature of the surface though that seems highly unlikely. 20 wickets fell on the second day's play, as the spinners continued their domination. South Africa ended day one, having lost two early wickets in their first innings, and finished Thursday having lost as many in their second innings as well. In between, they got rolled over for a record low score of 79, and then bundled out India for 173.
The number that mattered at the end of day two was that South Africa needed 278 runs to win with eight wickets in hand. That sounds very much like an improbable position. India needing eight wickets to wrap up the match, with full three days to go reads more logical. Chasing 310, South Africa ended the day at 32 for 2. Stiaan van Zyl's poor run continued as he played a loose shot against Ravichandran Ashwin, and hit one straight to Rohit Sharma at short cover. Not learning any lessons from the first innings, South Africa again sent in Imran Tahir as the nightwatchman. The move failed again. Tahir was rapped on the pads by Amit Mishra, and a close call went India's way.
The bigger problem for South Africa however lay earlier in the day. On a cruel pitch for batsmen, they stumbled to 12 for 5 very early in the day, and eventually to 79 all-out. Had it not been for a chancy innings from JP Duminy, who got nearly half of the runs for the Proteas with his brave 35, more records for low scores would have tumbled at Nagpur. The wicket procession began early in the day as Dean Elgar chopped one on from Ashwin. Hashim Amla's horror run continued as he played a sweep too early. The ball hit the back of the bat, lobbed up off the wicket-keeper, and landed harmlessly in Ajinkya Rahane's hands at slip.
The biggest blow of all came when AB de Villiers was back in the hut for a duck. De Villiers tried to turn Ravindra Jadeja round the corner, but the ball stopped in the pitch, took the edge of de Villiers' bat, and was in the air long enough for the bowler to run around and take a catch. South Africa, unbelievably, had lost half their side for 12. Under the circumstances, Duminy did not see any point in hanging around. He threw his bat around, and while he was lucky on a number of occasions as his shots eluded fielders, he also showed South Africans how to bat on a minefield. It needed the guile of Amit Mishra to send him back. That was the only scalp Mishra got as Ashwin-Jadeja had a wicket feast.
India themselves struggled on the crumbling pitch, but a 136 run lead was worth its weight in gold quite literally on this surface. And so, even as Imran Tahir claimed a five-for of his own, India did not bat badly enough to allow South Africa back in the game. Shikhar Dhawan, rather surprising, looked the most comfortable of all Indian batsmen out in the middle, until he played an over ambitious reverse sweep to lose his wicket. Virat Kohli tried to slog out unsuccessfully, and most others merely made up the numbers. Cheteshwar Pujara's 31, and Rohit Sharma's 23 were notable contributions under the circumstances. In all probability, India have done enough to clinch victory.
-- By A Cricket Correspondent