India started their South Africa sojourn in right earnest on Friday, claiming three opposition wickets for next to nothing, and by the end of Day 1 had lost three wickets themselves for next to nothing. The South African pace quartet comprising Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada and Vernon Philander threw bombs and missiles at the Indians all through Day 2. The Indians were battered, bruised and harried. They scratched and grafted, sometimes singed by Steyn and Co, at other times fighting back with grit. They played and missed, hopped and fended, and lost wickets to beauties, but made it a point to not go down easily.
Hardik Pandya staged a superb rearguard action, with the help of Bhuvneshwar Kumar and took India past 200 and to a degree to respectability. And then the Indian bowlers came back and ensured that the Proteas didn't go home on Day 2 totally comfortable. It has been a roller coaster – something that didn't seem would be the case when India were reduced to 81/6 – and the match is delicately poised. Yes, the hosts are 142 runs ahead, but India are not out of the game by a long shot.
India's plans then on Day 3 is simple. Go after the South African batsmen with all their might and take the remaining wickets as quickly as possible. This is turning out to be a low-scoring match, where the ball has dominated the bat, and with two innings and a bit more already done, time is not going to be a factor in this match. What India should therefore be looking for is to limit South Africa's lead to not more than 250. There is no denying the fact, though, that 250 on a difficult wicket against a top notch pace attack would not exactly be a walk in the park.
However, the hosts were dealt a body blow by the injury sustained by their lead pacer Steyn on Saturday. The ace bowler reportedly damaged a tissue and is expected to be out of action for four to six weeks, which rules him out of the series against India. But even without Steyn, the South African attack is more than a handful, and would leave no stones unturned in making life difficult for the Indian batsman. But to get to that position, the Indian bowlers have to wade through a line-up that boasts of the likes of Hashim Amla, AB de Villiers, Faf du Plessis and Quinton de Kock. Remember, Rabada, who had been sent in as the night-watchman at the fall of Dean Elgar's wicket late on Day 2, and Philander are no mugs with the bat.
If the Proteas can take the lead past 300, that is when Virat Kohli and Co will start to feel the heat, and anything above 350 would mean that India would be fighting to save the match from thereon.
So the objective for India is simple: charge at the South African batsmen with all their might, and then stave off the charge of the opposition bowlers, which is expected to be a massive one. And be wary of dropped catches and no balls! The Indian pacers would do well to take a leaf out of their South African counterparts, and put the ball in the right areas and right channel on a consistent basis. One just feels, they don't do it often enough and let off steam a bit too easily.