Rahane scores first fifty at home; is 11 runs short of a well-deserved fifth Test hundred
Off-spinner Dane Piedt bags four wickets, pacer Kyle Abott three
Ajinkya Rahane rallied India with a gutsy, unbeaten 89 as India's much-vaunted top-order failed yet again on the opening day of the fourth Test against South Africa at the Feroz Shah Kotla, in Delhi, on Thursday.
At stumps, the home side was 231 for 7 in 84 overs, when bad light forced an early end to the day's proceedings.
Along with Rahane, Ravichandran Ashwin was unbeaten on 6.
Save Rahane, who returned to form with a top quality knock off 155 balls, and skipper Virat Kohli (44), the other batsmen failed to make most of batting first on a slow track after India won the toss.
Rahane, whose knock was studded with nine boundaries and two sixes, is 11 runs short of a well-deserved fifth Test hundred, which could be the first in the ongoing series on either side.
India's tormentors were off-spinner Dane Piedt (4-101 in 34 overs), playing his first Test of the series, and pacer Kyle Abbott (3-23 in 17 overs), who was economical as well as incisive with his swing bowling.
Rahane, who crossed the 50-runs mark for the first time on home soil, kept his cool even as wickets tumbled at the other end.
For the record, this is only the third half-century by an Indian batsman in the series so far and eighth half-century in Rahane's Test career.
India's total is also the highest by either team in the series so far.
There were only two significant partnerships – 70 between Kohli and Rahane for the fourth wicket and 59 for the seventh wicket between Rahane and Ravindra Jadeja (24).
While he played second fiddle to Kohli during their stand, Rahane took charge once Wriddhiman Saha (1) was castled by Abbott's reverse swing.
Piedt, who came from round the wicket, fired at an angle which was dispatched for maximum over deep mid-wicket.
Rahane's 50 came off 91 balls when he hit Piedt for a boundary as Jadeja also grew in confidence at the other end.
However, Morne Morkel, coming for his final spell of the day, got Jadeja to flick one as Dean Elgar snapped a smart catch at mid-wicket.
The team's 200 came in the 74th over when Rahane hit an Imran Tahir half-tracker towards mid-wicket boundary and followed it up with a lofted hit over mid-on.
Skipper Kohli's promising innings was cut short by a freak dismissal while Rohit Sharma's indiscreet shot-selection compounded the home team's problems on a track that was far better than the ones provided at Mohali and Nagpur.
Kohli had raced to 44, his highest score in the series and looked good for even more, when he was sent back by Piedt.
It was a flighted delivery and Kohli hit a full-blooded sweep shot, but, to his horror, the ball popped up after ricocheting off the thigh of forward short-leg fielder Temba Bavuma. Wicketkeeper Dane Vilas rushed from his position to dive forward and completed an impressive catch.
Kohli struck seven boundaries in 62 balls, adding 70 runs with Rahane for the fourth wicket.
But it will certainly be Rohit Sharma's (1) irresponsible shot-selection that will be talked about for some time to come. Having been dropped at slip on 0 by Hashim Amla off Abbott's bowling, Rohit decided to give Piedt the charge by lofting a flighted delivery only to be caught by the fielder, stationed at long-on for that exact shot.
Earlier, having restricted the run flow during the first session, the Proteas bowlers attacked in the post-lunch session as they dismissed Shikhar Dhawan (33) and Cheteshwar Pujara (14) in quick succession to reduce the hosts to 66 for three. It was Piedt again as he bowled an off-break that caught Dhawan not lunging fully forward and offering his pad to be adjudged plu mb in-front. Dhawan's 33 came off 85 balls with four boundaries to his credit.
The loudest cheer from the school children, who had come to watch the first day's play, was reserved for skipper Kohli but to his dismay, soon after his arrival, Pujara was dismissed by Abbott.
It was a delivery that moved in after pitching as it sneaked in breaching Pujara's defence to hit the stumps. The dismissal due to the gap between bat and pad was something identical that had troubled the Saurashtra player in Australia last year.
This was the fourth time in the series that Kohli won the toss and immediately opted to make first use of the Kotla track.