Scorecard | Match pictures | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Schedule
JOHANNESBURG: More than just a slender advantage is what India hold going into the last day of the riveting first Test at the Wanderers. It’s an advantage they’d have settled for, not only when series commenced, but even as late as in the beginning of the last session on Saturday. Having set South Africa a massive target of 458, in the imposing shadow of which the hosts were expected to shrivel or, at best, barely survive, India spent more than 30 overs trying to dislodge the first of the eleven that stood between them and what may come to be an extraordinary overseas win for MS Dhoni’s young side.
For 30 overs and a bit did Alviro Petersen (76 batting) and Graeme Smith (44) thwart the bowlers, but on 108, some fifteen minutes into the last session, the pall of ill-fortune that hangs upon South Africa in matches of import thickened ominously again. Smith, beaten, battered, dropped, yet still alive, tapped R. Ashwin to mid-off and scampered across for a quick one. Several such cheeky singles had marked his time at the crase. But on this occasion he was beaten to safety by a direct hit from Ajinkya Rahane.
The beginning of the end
The hosts had lost their first, the deficit was precisely 350, and it could be assumed that this was the beginning of the familiar slide one has come to associate with cricket teams from the Rainbow Nation. The slide was not to be – at least not yet – but South Africa lost another, and that in a manner which will haunt the batsmen to follow. Hashim Amla, bowled shouldering arms in the first innings, outdid his last dismissal when he ducked into what he thought would be a Mohammad Shami bouncer. But as the bearded one sunk low on his axis – bat kept away, gloves dropped – he saw the sickening sight of the ball keeping lower and sneaking under the gateway of his body and onto the furniture.
Amla (4) couldn’t believe it. Neither could his mates in the balcony. Shami was elated. And Dhoni was kicked enough to throw off his big gloves and bowl two overs of rigid medium-pace in fading light, making this the first Test ever in which either wicket-keeper had turned his arm over. Although another wicket eluded India, South Africa were left staring a mountain at close; on a cracking last-day pitch with somewhat unpredictable bounce 320 may prove to be one too many with eight wickets remaining. If they are to make a fist of it, the rest will have to emulate the opener Petersen, who endured a barrage of out-swingers and bouncers and body-crunchers to respond with a brilliant, unconquered half-century. That is easier said that done.
Too little, too late
To say that South Africa owned the first half of the day would be only half true. Indeed, Kallis and Philander, Duminy and Tahir chipped in with a couple of wickets apiece to scupper India’s plans of racing away to a lead that was beyond the scope of a practical fourth-innings pursuit. The 137/8 Dhoni’s team did add to their overnight 284/2 still took their advantage to a mammoth 457. The morning began with Cheteshwar Pujara advancing like a glacier towards a fourth Test score in excess of 150. No sooner had he done that he tried cutting Kallis, was cramped for room, and edged to AB de Villiers, ending the 222-run partnership with Virat Kohli.
Kallis also bowled Rohit Sharma off a ball that hit a crack and kept low, while Kohli, who was striving to become only the fourth Indian to score a hundred in each innings of a Test, was caught behind on 96 attempting to late-cut JP Duminy. Duminy came into action again as Ajinkya Rahane reached out for a perfectly-pitched delivery and guided it to Smith at first slip.
Lunch was promptly taken, and on resumption a quick declaration was the need of the hour. Dhoni, however, continued to bat, moving to 29 before he slapped Philander into the hands of deep point. Philander had earlier picked up Ashwin, off a delivery that stopped a tad and took a leading edge to the cover fielder. Zaheer Khan came in and walloped a couple of sixes (one of which was gorgeously cover-driven off Tahir) and remaining unbeaten on as much as his skipper had made, even as Tahir cleaned up Ishant and Shami; like we said, too little, and, perhaps, too late for the home team.
ALSO SEE: MATCH PICTURES