New Delhi: Ajinkya Rahane stood tall amidst ruins with an unbeaten 89 as the much vaunted top-order failed et again with India reaching a shaky 231 for 7 against South Africa on the opening day of fourth and final cricket Test, here on Thursday.
Save for Rahane, who came back to form with a top quality unbeaten 89-run innings from 155 balls, and skipper Virat Kohli (44), who looked in good touch, the other specialist batsmen did not make use of a slow but decent enough track for batting after the skipper had won the toss.
Rahane's innings had nine boundaries and two sixes and he is 11 short of a well-deserved fifth Test hundred.
Giving Rahane company was R Ashwin (6) when play was called off slightly early owing to bad light.
The tormentors for India were spinner Dane Piedt (4/101 in 34 overs), playing his first Test of the series, and pacer Kyle Abott (3/23 in 17 overs), who was economical as well as incisive with his swing bowling as South Africa sent down 84 overs during the day.
Rahane, who scored his first ever half-century 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 of Rahane's Test career.
The total was also the highest by any team in the series so far. There were only two significant partnerships -- 70 between Kohli and Rahane for the 4th wicket and 59 for the 7th 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. His 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 Feroz Shah Kotla track which 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 by South Africa's most successful bowler off-spinner Dane Piedt, who had figures of 4/101 to show for his efforts.
It was a flighted delivery and Kohli hit a full-blooded sweep shot. But to his horror, the ball popped up after rebounding 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 Ajinkya Rahane for the fourth wicket.
But it will certainly be Rohit Sharma (1), whose irresponsible shot-selection will be talked about for some time to come.
Having been dropped at slip on 0 by Hashim Amla off Kyle 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.
It was Kohli, who certainly looked the best player among the top order batsmen hitting a flurry of fours -- as many as five -- within the first 35 balls.
There were a couple of assured drives and a short-arm pull off Morkel. A whip off the back-foot off Piedt also raced to boundary.
He found an able ally in Rahane, who also found some form going his way as the duo added 50 runs for the fourth wicket in only 48 minutes facing 67 balls.
Not only did they score quickly, they also showed the earlier batsmen that there were no demons in the pitch which made it even difficult to fathom some of the poor shot selections especially by Rohit, who has now wasted another golden opportunity to settle down in the Test team.
The turn was very slow which gave Kohli and Rahane enough time to adjust and play their strokes.
Earlier, having restricted the run flow during the first session, the Proteas bowlers attacked in the post lunch session as they dismissed Dhawan (33) and 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 plumb 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 when skipper Virat Kohli won the toss and immediately opted to make first use of the Kotla track.