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'Genius' de Villiers finds his Test groove

Former Test skipper posts counter-attacking half-century to change the course of the first Test against India

The "genius" of AB de Villiers and a ferocious onslaught from South Africa's fast bowlers changed the course of the first day of the first Test against India at Newlands.

India started the day like the world champions they are according to the Test rankings, but their nearest challengers finished the day on top, with India staggering at 3-28 at the close after bowling out the hosts for 286.

It was a remarkable turnaround after South Africa had been reduced to 3-12 by Bhuvneshwar Kumar inside the first half hour.

"They are a quality bowling attack and at that stage I was sitting there wondering how we were going to score a run," said South African batting coach Dale Benkenstein.

He didn't have to wonder for long.

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Counter-attacking batting, led by aggressive half-centuries by de Villiers and captain Faf du Plessis, and some wayward bowling by India enabled South Africa to make a reasonable total on a lively pitch before their imposing fast bowling attack of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada - who have 979 Test wickets between them - made early inroads.

Benkenstein praised "the class and genius of AB de Villiers and the tenacity of the captain".

The pair put on 114 for the fourth wicket, with De Villiers in sparkling form as he hit 65 off 84 balls with 11 fours. 

He showed intent from the start of his innings, hitting four fours off Kumar's fifth over.

It was the right-hander's second successive half-century - he scored 53 against Zimbabwe on Boxing Day - in his return to Test cricket after an absence of almost a year.

"That one over from AB changed the game," said Benkenstein. "He made the bowlers worry about their lengths. That partnership got us back in the game and brought belief back in the change room."

Kumar, who took wickets in each of his first three overs, finished with 4-87 and conceded more than four runs an over as did fellow seamers, new cap Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya. 

"We gave away 25 or 30 too many runs," said Kumar, who acknowledged the game-changing ability of De Villiers. 

"When AB bats you know you have to bowl well. In some overs we gave away too many boundaries."

De Villiers posted a crucial fifty at Newlands // Getty
De Villiers posted a crucial fifty at Newlands // Getty

Du Plessis said batting first on a well-grassed pitch was a "tricky decision" and his side's start must have reinforced his misgivings.

But the rest of the South African batting proved resilient. The De Villiers-Du Plessis partnership was followed by a sixth wicket stand of 60 off 54 balls from Quinton de Kock and Philander, and there were useful contributions from the tailenders.

"Those runs down the order in tough conditions were vital," said Benkenstein.

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