South Africa vs India 1st Test, Day 4 Match Report: India Close In on Momentous Victory

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By Deepak Vikraman | December 21, 2013 11:15 PM EST

Cheteshwar Pujara celebrates reaching his 150 against South Africa on Day 4. Reuters

Eight wickets - bowled, lbw, caught, run out, bad decisions, doesn't matter. Eight wickets on Sunday, day five of the first Test, against the best Test side in the world - South Africa -- and India will be celebrating a truly momentous victory.

Not given even a ghost of a chance, the young and inexperienced Test side are on the brink of taking a 1-0 lead after relegating South Africa to 138 for two at the close of play on Day 3.

A victory for South Africa, unless somebody plays the innings of his life and several others, is out of reach, with the Proteas, set a target of 458, still trailing India by 319 runs.

In the morning, take your time first, and then slam-bang to put the target beyond South Africa's reach plan did not quite work for India of day 4 as the previous day's stars Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli fell relatively early, early enough to prevent India from accelerating too much.

India, starting the penultimate day of the first Test in Johannesburg on 284 for two, managed only 74 runs by Lunch, while losing four wickets in the process, with both Pujara and Kohli sent back to the pavilion by a restrictive South Africa attack, led by Jacques Kallis.

They, however, did manage to get to 421 all out, setting South Africa a we-will-have-to-bat-out-of-our-skins-and-then-some target of 458 runs.

In reply, South Africa began ominously, with Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen breezing past the 100-run mark, as a we-can-save-the-match feeling began to rise.

However, all India needed was one wicket to possibly open up the floodgates, and it was South Africa and Smith who gifted the visitors that, going for a quick single with Ajinkya Rahane brilliantly hitting the stumps directly to send the South Africa captain back to the pavilion after a well-made 44 (73b, 6x4).

The stage was set for another this-guy-is-just-too-good innings from Hashim Amla, but the right-hander was dismissed soon after by Mohammed Shami in the strangest of circumstances.

Amla ducked down to a short delivery, dropping his hands, as it should be done, but the ball, bored with zipping over the batsmen time and again, decided to stay low, and find a way above Amla's hands and below his helmet to hit the top of off-stump.

Faf Du Plessis was sent in, with just a few overs remaining, with the light also starting to fade, which in turn forced MS Dhoni to drop the gloves and take up the ball for a little beat of medium pace.

No more wickets were in order, however, as the Proteas, with the impressive Petersen (76, 148b, 9x4) and Du Plessis (8, 37b) batting, hung around under fading light.

The two overnight batsmen played out 15 overs in the morning session of day four, with Pujara completing his 150 in the process.

The right-hander seemed to be on his way to yet another double hundred, only for the excellent Kallis to find an outside edge and end Pujara's immaculate innings at 153 (270b, 21x4).

Rohit Sharma's bad run in South Africa continued, although the ODI opener can consider himself unlucky as the increasingly widening cracks finally came into play, with Kallis hitting one and getting the ball to jag back alarmingly as the ball also kept quite low.

Imran Tahir attempts to stop the ball as Kohli looks on. Reuters

Kohli was targeting becoming the first India batsman at No.4 to get a century in each innings in a Test match, something that even the great Sachin Tendulkar could not manage in his unbelievable career, but fell oh-my-god-I-was-just-four-runs-away short, edging one to wicketkeeper AB De Villiers while trying to cut JP Duminy - a look of disbelief from Kohli (96b, 193, 9x4) followed, but walk back he had to.

Duminy, South Africa's spinner due to Imran Tahir's struggles, kept things tight at one end and would pick up another wicket, dismissing Ajinkya Rahane (15, 27b, 2x4) on the stroke of Lunch to put India on 358 for six.

R Ashwin could not display his increasingly adept batting skills this time around, as Vernon Philander got one to bounce with the India batsman popping one straight to Faf Du Plessis at cover.

That left MS Dhoni (29, 44b, 3x4) to do most of the final work with the bat, with Zaheer Khan giving him company. But the India skipper holed out in the deep while trying to up the ante, with Philander picking up another wicket.

India were on 384 for eight at that moment, a lead of 420 runs, allowing Zaheer, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami to throw their bats a little, just to irritate the South Africans that little bit more.

Ishant and Zaheer added 21 runs, before Tahir finally picked up that why-have-you-been-avoiding-me wicket, trapping Ishant in front of the wicket.

Zaheer, with just Shami left at the other end, continued his gold swings with great gusto, smashing Dale I-haven't-been-able-to-pick-up-a-single-wicket-in-this-innings Steyn for a big six.

The last wicket pair had some fun, adding another 16 runs, before Tahir's googly saw the stumps smash after Shami missed a typical No.11 heave-ho.

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