KL Rahul century puts India in control of Boxing Day Test against South Africa

Visitors reach 272-3 on opening day of Centurion Test

Opener KL Rahul scored a near flawless century on Sunday to put India in command of the Boxing Day Test against South Africa in Centurion.

Rahul overcame testing conditions to remain unbeaten on 122, taking the visitors to 272-3 after captain Virat Kohli decided to bat first.

The Protea quicks were indifferent at the start, allowing openers Mayank Agarwal (60) and Rahul to settle down. The two dug deep, putting together just the second century stand by Indian openers outside Asia in 11 years.

Agarwal was dropped on 36 by wicketkeeper Quinton de Kock, denying debutant left-arm fast bowler Marco Jansen his first Test scalp.

Lungi Ngidi (3-45) finally broke through in the 41st over with a successful lbw review of Agarwal with the scoreboard reading 117. After waiting for more than a session for their first wicket, the home side got a second immediately when Cheteshwar Pujara pushed forward to Ngidi and was caught by Keegan Petersen at short leg.

Pujara had only been out first ball once before in his 92-Test career – run out by Ngidi at Centurion in 2018.

India, who were 83 for no loss at lunch, were put under pressure in the second session. The home side hoped for quick wickets as they finally bowled fuller and attacked the stumps.

However, Rahul and Kohli (35) steadied India again as the sun came out following an overcast morning.

Captain Kohli looked determined but chased a wide ball from Ngidi to edge to first slip, showing that he is still susceptible outside the off stump.

Next man Ajinkya Rahane was under immense pressure as he was selected ahead of in-form Shreyas Iyer and Hanuma Vihari.

The former vice-captain did not show any nerves, however, reaching 40 by stumps with the help of eight fours.

Rahul's unbeaten 122 came off 248 balls with 17 fours and one six off spinner Keshav Maharaj. He was in control for almost the entire day, with only one difficult chance to long leg off Wiaan Mulder when he was on 60.

South Africa's quick were surprisingly flat on the first day of a Test. All their pacers were bowling the mid 130 kphs by the third session, raising questions about their decision to keep express quick Duanne Olivier out of the team even though they were without strike pacer Anrich Nortje.

The hosts looked like a side who have not played Test cricket since June, with a number of their players having had no red-ball cricket in the last six months. They bowled too short and did not attack the stumps enough.

"Putting up 270 on the first day is fantastic and the key to us doing that was getting a good start," Agarwal said after stumps.

"When you come abroad to places like South Africa, it is very important you apply yourself, be disciplined and come with good game-plans. That paid dividends for us. The pitch was initially quite soft and there was moisture there. We knew scoring runs on the front foot would not be easy."

India, who enter the series on the back of a historic series win in Australia and a 2-1 lead in the series England to be completed next year, are looking for their first Test series win in the country.

"Credit goes to them, they had good disciplines and they left well. We could have been a lot better in terms of our lines and lengths," Ngidi said. "We need to reset and go again."

The Indians will be looking to put up a substantial score in the first innings on a pitch that will get quicker on Day Two. The visitors will also expect their pace attack - led by Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami - to extract a lot more from the pitch than their counterparts.

The match is being held behind closed doors following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Updated: December 26th 2021, 4:14 PM