Indian bowler Bhuvneshwar Kumar grabbed wickets in each of his first three overs in a dream start on the first day of the first Test against SA at Newlands on Friday.
Kumar dismissed Dean Elgar, Aiden Markram and Hashim Amla to have SA — who are second behind India on the world Test rankings — reeling on 12/3 after five overs.
South African captain Faf du Plessis won the toss and decided to bat on a well-grassed pitch, a decision which he admitted was tricky.
Elgar, SA’s leading batsman in 2017, edged the third ball of the match to be caught behind by Wriddhiman Saha for nought.
His opening partner, Markram, fell in Kumar’s next over, leg before wicket for five, before Amla, on three, edged an attempted back foot drive and gave Saha a second catch.
AB de Villiers counterattacked, hitting Kumar for four fours in his fifth over as SA reached 33/3 after 10 overs.
A lively wicket has been prepared to benefit SA’s pace bowlers but Du Plessis said he was taking a gamble that it would be softer and slower early on the opening day, and then quicken up as it dried out later in the day.
"It is tricky one to call," he said.
SA decided to play with four seamers, which means a return to the Test arena of Dale Steyn.
The 34-year-old, five wickets from becoming SA’s highest Test wicket-taker, has been out for over a year with a shoulder injury.
That means Temba Bavuma has to sit out as the home side sacrificed a batsman in the first match of the three-Test series.
India captain Virat Kohli said he would have elected to bowl had he won the toss.
"We saw the South Africans warming up with their four seamers, so we wanted to get out on this green wicket and try and make some early inroads into their batting."
India handed a first Test cap to bowler Jasprit Bumrah after his good form in recent one-day internationals. They picked three seamers and also have all-rounder Hardik Pandya, with a lone specialist spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin.
SA: Faf du Plessis (captain), Hashim Amla, Quinton de Kock (wicketkeeper), AB de Villiers, Dean Elgar, Keshav Maharaj, Aiden Markram, Morne Morkel, Vernon Philander, Kagiso Rabada, Dale Steyn
India: Virat Kohli (captain), Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan, Cheteshwar Pujara, Rohit Sharma, Hardik Pandya, Ravichandran Ashwin, Wriddhiman Saha (wicketkeeper), Jasprit Bumrah, Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
AFP and Reuters