Scorecard | Match pictures | Schedule | Day 1 report | Kohli shines
It was early in the last session on Thursday that the law of averages caught up with India. For over three hours and almost 40 overs, India's pace attack had tortured South Africa's batsmen without dividend. Graeme Smith had played and missed, and missed some more, all the way to a half-century he wouldn't really care to talk about, ever. The usually solid Hashim Amla had looked spotty, but had hung in there. Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami had bowled their hearts out - edges were freely forthcoming, but were either put down or safe - and here stood South Africa on 130/1, not too far away from India's first innings 280, awaiting their moment to tighten a new set of screws into the visitors' overseas cricketing coffin.
And then it happened.
In the fourth over of the post-tea session, Ishant, with a little assistance from Amla, struck wicket gold. Hair flying all over the place, the lanky paceman bowled the bearded one, whose error in judgement to shoulder arms to an in-cutter cost him a set of wrecked stumps. The next delivery, fast, full and straight, trapped a lethargic Jacques Kallis in front. Not a run had been added to the total when Zaheer returned to claim his bunny, Smith, who had literally lived on the edge for almost his entire innings, but found luck deserting him when a delivery slanting down the leg-side was adjudicated by the man in white to be hitting timber.
Shami had bowled brilliantly but infructuously all afternoon. But in his first over of a new spell, the Bengal seamer took out South Africa's men in form, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers, the former lured into a nick to slip, the latter 'lbw' by one that shaped in. In a trice, South Africa had lost five wickets for 16 to settle perilously on 146/6, still 134 in arrears. Philander (48*) and Faf du Plessis (17*) held off the Indian charge with an invauable, unbroken seventh-wicket association for 67 runs, and that's precisely by how much South Africa trailed at stumps on the second day of this most intriguing first Test.
The match had miraculously shape-shifted from one that India were battling to save, to one that was India's to lose. MS Dhoni's men, however, had spent the better part of the day staring at the second eventuality. When they resumed on 255/5 in the morning, it took them just 13 overs and 25 runs to undo all the good work of Virat Kohli, as they were shot out for 280. Overnight rain having softened the pitch, South Africa's pacers recaliberated their length to just a little fuller than where they had bowled on the opening day.
The results were immediate.
In the ninth over of the day, Dhoni poked at Morne Morkel’s full, outside the off-stump delivery that merely followed the laws of physics and went on to indent itself in de Villiers' big gloves. Philander then did an 'Ishant' (or, in retrospect, it was Ishant who did a 'Philander' when he took two in two later) -- Ajinkya Rahane (47) was snared with one that bounced and seamed away; Zaheer, glued to the crease, struck in front, went for a golden duck. Philander and Morkel cleaned up tail, bowling Ishant and Shami respectively for a blob apiece, and terminated India’s advance to what had looked like a given at the end of the first day: a total above 300.
The gaze then switched over. Zaheer had the new ball in his hand and Smith, his veritable ‘bunny’, in his sight. The Proteas opening pair negotiated without loss the ten overs to the lunch break, but not before Zaheer smacked Smith in the right knee region, a blow that required the services of magic spray. Smith's batting was particularly low grade, and once Alviro Peterson (21) was hit flush in line with off-stump, by Ishant for the first wicket, Smith's struggles became the highlight of the middle session.
Edges and drops
He was dropped by R. Ashwin at slip off Zaheer when he was on 19. Then followed a string of edges: A thick one that raced past slips; another against an Ishant scorcher that sought safety in the vacant third-man area; a ‘French cut’ for another fortuitous boundary; and another that flew just wide of Rohit Sharma at fourth slip. Shots of surety were few and far between, for instance, the powerful thump against Ashwin (who was finally called into service in the 32nd over of the innings) that gave the South African captain what was unarguably his most wretched Test half-century.
What made it worse for the home side was that Amla was having a rare bad day. Except for a brief phase in which he gained confident boundaries in a Zaheer over, the World's second-best Test batsman spent a streaky time in the middle. Maybe, then, it was ironic that it was Amla's lapse in judgment that triggered South Africa's slippery slide. Late in the day, du Plessis and Philander strove to arrest a descent into certain defeat. The next three days will tell if they partially succeeded, or partially failed.
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