CENTURION, South Africa (AP) — After toiling for 2 1/2 sessions, India was suddenly on top in the second test as South Africa threw away wickets at the end of day one on Saturday.
Hashim Amla's run out on 82 started the late slide as South Africa went from the comfort of 246-3 to 269-6 in the last 10 overs before stumps.
Vernon Philander also ran himself out for 0. In between those two dismissals, Quinton de Kock was out first ball off spinner Ravichandran Ashwin.
Ashwin was India's best bowler with 3-90 as the seam attack struggled for most of the day on a surprisingly slow and lifeless pitch at SuperSport Park.
The late drama, though, and South Africa's careless end to the day gave India a way back into the test and possibly the three-match series after going 1-0 down in Cape Town and starting the game in Centurion on the back foot.
"I feel those wickets in the last session are a very valuable incentive for the team going into the second day," Ashwin said.
Opener Aiden Markram made 94 as South Africa put together partnerships of 85, 63 and 51 for the first three wickets to control most of the day.
That meant little, though, after Hardik Pandya swooped, turned and threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end to run out Amla and turn the day around.
Two balls later, de Kock edged Ashwin to India captain Virat Kohli at slip, with Kohli setting off on a vigorous celebration that took him right to the other end of the pitch.
Philander's run out in the next over came as he set off for a run as the ball looped into the air and dropped between three India fielders. South Africa captain Faf du Plessis was unmoved at the other end as Pandya, again, played a role in the run out by returning the ball to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel with both South Africa batsmen at the other end.
"It's all part of the game. We've just got to remain nice and positive," Markram said.
Du Plessis held his team together until stumps and was 24 not out. Keshav Maharaj was with him on 10 not out but South Africa had only tailenders left to come on a pitch where they would have been targeting a score of 400 plus after that start.
With Markram going well, South Africa was 78-0 at lunch and 182-2 at tea after du Plessis won the toss and said it was an easy decision to bat first.
SuperSport Park was expected to be fast and bouncy and replicate the Cape Town pitch where India's batsmen struggled against the home quick bowlers and the top-ranked test team lost by 72 runs to fall behind in a series against its closest challenger in the rankings. The surface at SuperSport Park was nothing like that, however, with slow bowler Ashwin the one to profit on the opening day. He bowled 31 overs.
"I like to think I've kept us in the game. It could so easily have been a day where they ran away with it in the second session," Ashwin said. "I like to think I've been dogged."
Markram hit 15 fours but fell just short of a century on his home ground and where he grew up watching cricket, getting a thin edge behind to wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel off Ashwin as he poked at one outside the off stump.
Markram has two test centuries and two half-centuries in his first five tests and has been out in the 90s twice now in his first seven test innings.
"Massively disappointed," he said. "It was a nothing shot and I've still not got over it just yet."
Ashwin picked up opener Dean Elgar for 31 for the first breakthrough.
AB de Villiers was out for 20, played on to seamer Ishant Sharma.
Markram and then Amla played South Africa into a position of dominance, with Amla stroking 14 fours and appearing to be on the way to another century at a ground where he has his best record. He has four centuries and a double-century at Centurion and was on course to add to that when du Plessis called him through for a quick single and Pandya pounced brilliantly.