The much-anticipated Test series between India and South Africa in the 2007-08 season kickstarted at MA Chidambaram stadium Chennai on 26 March 2008. The flat pitch and humid conditions in Chennai made it the perfect start as it allowed the batsmen to present their skills and entertain audiences.
South Africa won the crucial toss and without hesitation opted to bat first. Captain Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie made the most of the helpful batting conditions and stitched an opening partnership of 132 runs. Anil Kumble gave India the breakthrough by getting Smith out on 73 runs and then Harbhajan Singh denied McKenzie a hundred, as the ball landed in the safe pair of hands of Rahul Dravid.
The Indian spinners then quickly sent back the dangerous pair of Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince and pushed South Africa on the backfoot. But AB de Villiers’s quickfire 44 brought South Africa back in the driving seat; Mark Boucher with his effective 70 runs ensured South Africa retained the dominant position. Except for Morkel (35 runs), the tail enders failed to make any impact thanks to Harbhajan Singh’s five-wicket haul.
However, the hero of the first innings was Hashim Amla who played skillfully against the spinners and with control against the pacers. He kept one end secure and also kept the scoreboard ticking throughout his innings. His contribution of 159 runs helped South Africa in piling up a huge score of 540 runs in the first innings.
India responded brilliantly by scoring 82 runs without any loss by the end of day two. Then on day three, the world witnessed one of the most aggressive and entertaining Test match innings of all-time. Resuming on the overnight score of 52, Virender Sehwag began the day by smashing Ntini to the covers and then whipping him past mid-wicket for four. He then welcomed Kallis by sending the ball through the third man boundary, and when Steyn erred in his line, he flicked him to the fine leg region.
Before the drinks break, Sehwag added 39 runs to his tally off just 42 balls and by the time the first session ended, he had 110 runs off only 133 balls. In the first session, he clobbered 58 runs off 71 balls. Wasim Jaffer from the other end was on 60 runs of 143 balls and ensured India didn’t lose a wicket in the first session.
If South Africa thought the morning session was the end of ‘The Sehwag Show’, there was more carnage in store in the post lunch session. On the first ball of the session, the ‘Nawab of Najafgarh’ scored a boundary through square leg and announced his intentions. He then butchered Steyn by hitting two consecutive boundaries.
But Paul Harris, against whom Sehwag was particularly aggressive, kept calm and produced the wicket of Wasim Jaffer when the score was 213 runs.
However, the fall of the wicket made little difference to the proceedings as Rahul Dravid continued the work of Jaffer and allowed Sehwag the freedom to attack from the other end. Sehwag went after Morkel and completed his 150 and continued hitting Harris by finding gaps and taking the aerial route.
At tea time, India had amassed 309 runs and the pair of Dravid and Sehwag had added 90 runs. The Delhi batsman was in One-Day international mode and added 108 runs off 67 balls in that session. After reaching 150, Sehwag accelerated even further and scored the next 50 runs in only 23 balls.
While on 193, he hit Ntini over long-on for six, and the next ball, he flicked the ball effortlessly through mid-wicket and ran three runs. He got his double hundred off 194 balls, the third quickest ever in Test cricket.
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The last over before tea, Sehwag once again showed why he is a special batsman. When most batsmen would be happy to see off the last over before the end of a session, Sehwag went hammer and tongs and scored 15 runs from the over.
On the first ball, Ntini offered width and Sehwag extended his arms, and the ball soared past extra cover fence for a six; the next ball was thrashed at point boundary for four. If all this was spectacular, his four off the last ball was incredible. He opened his stumps by moving to the leg side and drilled the red leather sphere through mid-off. What a way to finish a session!
Sehwag continued the destruction in the final session as well and reached 250 off only 225 balls. As all front line bowlers looked ineffective, Smith brought on Ashwell Prince who Sehwag smashed over long-off for a massive six. He frequently sent Harris and Kallis for boundaries and neutralised the threat of Steyn by getting quick runs.
On 297, he went down the track and sent Harris straight down the ground for another six and indicated how much numbers and personal milestones mattered to him. In the next over, he flicked Ntini for a single and completed the fasted triple hundred ever in just 278 balls.
The day finally ended when India reached 468 runs. After taking only one wicket and giving away 386 runs in the entire day, the South African bowlers had gone through the toughest day of Test cricket.
On day four, the fate of the Test was almost sealed and a draw looked certain, however, there was tremendous excitement as Brian Lara’s record of 400 was in danger.
However, Ntini offered South Africa relief by getting Sehwag out on 319. It was pitched a little short and Sehwag tried to smash it through covers. The ball, though, after the early movement off the deck, kissed the outside edge of Sehwag’s bat and settled in McKenzie’s hands at first slip.
The carnage came to an end. The destruction was over and the entire MA Chidambaram Stadium stood up as Sehwag went back to the pavilion. Lara’s record was intact but Sehwag created other records – he posted the highest individual score by an Indian and became only the second batsman after Don Bradman to smash two triple hundreds.
After the Indian opener’s departure, South Africa ran through India’s middle order and prevented further damage. Dravid completed his hundred and helped India to a score of 627 runs.
The Test ended in an inconsequential draw after South Africa batted out the final day and scored 331 runs. McKenzie, after missing out on a century in first innings, stood tall in the second innings and remained unbeaten on 155.
The first Test in Chennai though is remembered for the outrageous stroke making and pure entertainment provided by the swashbuckler, Virender Sehwag!