Johannesburg - Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have batted India into a position of
dominance on the third day of the first Test against South Africa at the
Wanderers Stadium on Friday.
The foundation was laid by Pujara and Murali Vijay (39) during a watchful second wicket stand of 70.
Pujara (135 not out) and first innings century-maker Kohli (77 not out) shared an unbeaten third wicket partnership of 191 on a pitch which for the most part has been difficult for batsmen.
But as the South African bowlers wilted the batsmen were able to score freely, adding 175 in 38 overs between tea and the close.
South Africa were without Morne Morkel for most of the innings after the tall fast bowler suffered a strained right ankle while fielding. The injury is likely to keep Morkel out of the second and final Test starting in Durban on December 26.
In Morkel's absence, the Indian batsmen were able to blunt the threat of Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander, batting with discipline and leaving most deliveries outside the off stump.
South African captain Graeme Smith was forced to juggle an attack in which spin bowlers Imran Tahir and JP Duminy were ineffective, even turning to wicketkeeper AB de Villiers for one over before tea.
Indian fast bowler Ishant Sharma, who earlier took four wickets as South Africa were bowled out for 244 in their first innings, felt India were in a strong position to press for a win against the world champions.
"We just need to stick to our plans by bowling in the right areas," he said. "There are indentations on the wicket and the cracks are starting to show, so it's going to help the fast bowlers."
Sharma gave credit to the batsmen, highlighting the way they had left the ball in building their partnerships.
Pujara was cautious at the start of his innings, taking 127 balls to reach his fifty but he then blossomed, needing only another 41 deliveries to reach his century. By the close he had faced 221 balls and hit 18 boundaries.
Kohli, who made 119 in the first innings, was content to play a secondary role and his 77 was scored off 132 balls with eight fours.
South Africa's only successes came from Philander and Jacques Kallis, who dismissed Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay respectively.
Philander claimed his 100th Test wicket in his 19th Test when he had Dhawan caught at second slip for 15. He reached the 100 wicket mark faster than any other South African, achieving the feat in one Test fewer than teammate Dale Steyn.
He downplayed his achievement. "It is a great feeling," he said, "but I prepare for each game exactly the same way. Hopefully I can collect a few more sticks for South Africa."
Philander acknowledged that South Africa faced a massive task if they were to save or win the game.
"It's one of those days. The batsmen played and missed quite a lot early on but they batted very well.
"They left well when they came in and they played the spinners very well to make sure the seamers had to come back when they were tired."
Philander said South Africa still believed they could fight their way out of trouble.
"They (India) have played the better cricket up to now. Hopefully we can strike early tomorrow morning and then bat well for a day and a half or a day and three quarters.
"The guys are quite down now to be honest and losing Morne made a big difference to the bowling unit. But we always believe there is a way out. How we go about it we'll have to discuss in the morning."
India's imposing second innings came after Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma finished with four wickets apiece as South Africa were bowled out for 244, giving India a first innings lead of 36.
South Africa made a confident start to the day after resuming on 213 for six, with Philander punching two short-pitched deliveries from Ishant Sharma through the covers for four. The first boundary brought up his third Test half-century.
Sharma and Khan soon found their rhythm, again bowling mainly to a full length on a pitch with unpredictable bounce.
Khan finished with four for 88 and Ishant Sharma took four for 79.