After six days of South African domination, this much-hyped clash of cricket’s best sides exploded into life on a dramatic day at Kingsmead that saw 18 wickets fall in 77.2 overs. By the time poor light took the players off at 5:17pm, India were 166 ahead with six second-innings wickets standing.
There was little hint of what was to come as much of the morning session went according to South Africa’s plans. MS Dhoni’s straight six off Dale Steyn was the lone note of defiance as the hosts wrapped up the last four Indian wickets for 15.
Steyn finished with 6 for 50 and though Zaheer Khan took out both openers – Graeme Smith nicking one behind and Alviro Petersen slightly unfortunate to be bowled off the pad – Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis were looking as resolute as they had been at Centurion where they added 230.
The game turned with the ball brushing Ishant Sharma’s fingertips as Amla drove one back down the ground. Kallis thought he had made his ground, but replays found him inches short. Soon after, Sreesanth, who had been dire in his opening spell, produced a peach that lifted and left AB de Villiers to send South Africa in to lunch at 74 for four.
After the interval, it was spin rather than pace that broke the back of the innings. Harbhajan Singh was enjoying the extra bounce and when Amla was trapped in front trying to sweep, it exposed a tail that hasn’t had much batting in recent times.
Zaheer returned to bowl Ashwell Prince off the inside edge, while Harbhajan got both Steyn and Paul Harris courtesy magnificent close-in grabs.
Dravid dived to his left at slip to take Steyn, his 200th catch and the 50th off Harbhajan, while Cheteshwar Pujara flung himself to the right at short leg to leave South Africa 103 for eight. Morne Morkel helped Mark Boucher add 24, but when Harbhajan took his fourth to end the innings, South Africa had faced eight fewer balls than India had in their first innings at Centurion.
“They’re the No 1 team in the world, and we expected them to bounce back,” said de Villiers afterwards. “Obviously, Zaheer’s return made a difference. He put us under pressure from the start. We batted extremely poorly.”
Harbhajan was full of praise for Zaheer, whose performance mocked local predictions that India were incapable of bowling South Africa out. “He’s been outstanding for us,” he said. “He doesn’t just take wickets, but also helps the others to bowl better.”
With a crowd of just over 10,000 in attendance, Virender Sehwag started the second innings intent on inflicting further punishment. Every error in line or length was punished and India were 116 to the good when his disdain for Lonwabo Tsotsobe’s left-arm medium-pace changed the complexion of the game.
An awful flail outside off stump went off the edge to Boucher, and it was double trouble when Murali Vijay could only glove a brute of a delivery from Morkel to the man at short leg. Worse was to follow as the two most experienced campaigners managed just eight between them. Dravid gifted Tsotsobe another wicket chasing a wide one, while Sachin Tendulkar steered the first ball of Steyn’s second spell to third slip.
At 56 for four, India were sinking, but Pujara and Laxman added 36 in 76 tense minutes to redress the balance somewhat. Laxman has a reputation for second-innings heroics, but day three could be the making of Pujara, whose ability to adapt after playing most of his cricket on a slow, low Rajkot pitch was especially impressive.
With more sunshine expected on Tuesday, the pitch could play easier and there was no hint of complacency in the Indian dressing room. “Tomorrow is D Day for us,” said Harbhajan. “We need to bat well the first session and set them more than 300.”
If they can manage anything in excess of 275, this slow-burning series could yet go to the wire.
India, 1st innings (Overnight 183-6):
Virender Sehwag c Kallis b Steyn 25
Murali Vijay c Boucher b Steyn 19
Rahul Dravid c Boucher b Steyn 25
Sachin Tendulkar c Kallis b Tsotsobe 13
VVS Laxman c Tsotsobe b Steyn 38
Cheteshwar Pujara c Boucher b Tsotsobe 19
Mahendra Singh Dhoni c Petersen b Steyn 35
Harbhajan Singh c de Villiers b Steyn 21
Zaheer Khan c Boucher b Morkel 0
Ishant Sharma not out 1
Shanthakumaran Sreesanth c Boucher b Morkel 0
Extras: (1b, 2lb, 4w, 2nb) 9
TOTAL: (all out, 65.1 overs) 205.
Fall of wickets: 1-43, 2-48, 3-79, 4-117, 5-130, 6-156, 7-190, 8-193, 9-205, 10-205.
Bowling: Dale Steyn 19-6-50-6, Morne Morkel 19.1-3-68-2 (2nb), Lonwabo Tsotsobe 11-3-40-2 (1w), Jacques Kallis 8-2-18-0 (1w), Paul Harris 8-1-26-0.
South Africa 1st Innings:
Alviro Petersen b Khan 24
Graeme Smith c Dhoni b Khan 9
Hashim Amla lbw Harbhajan Singh 33
Jacques Kallis run out (Sharma) 10
AB de Villiers c Dhoni b Sreesanth 0
Ashwell Prince b Khan 13
Mark Boucher not out 16
Dale Steyn c Dravid b Harbhajan 1
Paul Harris c Pujara b Harbhajan 0
Morne Morkel c Harbhajan b Sharma 10
Lonwabo Tsotsobe c Vijay b Harbhajan 0.
Extras: (2lb, 1w, 12nb) 15
TOTAL: (all out, 37.2 overs) 131
Fall of wickets: 1-23, 2-46, 3-67, 4-74, 5-96, 6-100, 7-103, 8-103, 9-127, 10-131
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 13-2-36-3, Shanthakumaran Sreesanth 8-0-41-1 (5nb, 1w), Ishant Sharma 9-2-42-1 (7nb), Harbhajan Singh 7.2-2-10-4.