When a South African No. 10 batsman reverse slog sweeps an Indian offspinner, and Wasim Jaffer joins Virender Sehwag in uppercutting Makhaya Ntini for six, you know exactly how much there is in the pitch for the bowlers. The second day was one of extreme frustration for the bowlers, as South Africa all but ensured they could not lose, putting 540 on the board, but discovered that victory might elude them as India replied with a belligerent 82 for no loss. Hashim Amla, with 159, took the largest helping at the buffet laid out, but no one went hungry.
Ebb and ebb
One of the reasons why watching sport is an enduring pastime — some people spend a lifetime doing it — is because even the most astute expert can be proved wrong. There are twists and turns, one team building momentum and the other clawing their way back; a stirring individual performance lights up a dull period; a crucial error in judgment costs a team dear. But on the day there were none of these factors in evidence, and only the fact that there is plenty of cricket to be played yet, held the attention through a soporific afternoon.
If the game was robbed of drama, it was no fault of the eleven players on either side, for there's enough talent here to set the pulse racing. But even Van Gogh needs a canvas to paint on. And the platform provided for these artists to express themselves ensured that no drama was possible. It's not a question of apportioning blame, but when discussions centre more on the pitch than anything else, on a day when a batsman scores a century and a half, and a bowler picks up five wickets, someone's got to sit up and take notice. With memories of India's historic win in Perth still fresh in the mind, and the constituency of Test cricket in threat of being seriously eroded by scantily clad dancers, Bollywood stars and big hitting in the IPL, it confounds the mind that a pitch so dead would be served up.
Amla finds a new target
New Zealand have suffered inordinately at Amla's hands — all of his previous Test centuries came against them — but India's turn finally came. The manner in which Amla bats rarely suggests violence. He waits on the ball, and relies more on placement and precision to beat the field rather than power to clear the ropes. But even his approach yielded 20 boundaries — the innings in total comprised 324 runs in boundaries, the highest ever for the venue — enough to give SA a solid platform.
The pleasing part of Amla's effort was that it was virtually chanceless, and in the end it took a run out to prise him away from the batting crease. After pushing one to the off side he scampered a non-existent single, and though Sreesanth's throw went to the wrong end, MS Dhoni had enough time to lob the ball to Anil Kumble to effect the run out. Amla's almost seven-hour stay at the crease gave him 159. South Africa's cricketers are famous for being dogged, and while Amla topscored, everyone else contributed. de Villiers (44), Boucher (70) and Morkel (35) stretched the innings long enough to break the backs of India's bowling.
Light at the end of the tunnel
When your main bowlers go for more than 100 runs each, and only one concedes less than three per over, nerves are bound to be frazzled. But India, whose fielding grew steadily ragged, could do nothing to keep the morale up. They just could not penetrate enough, and it was only when Sehwag and Jaffer came to bat that the mood lifted. Dale Steyn was the big threat, but on this pitch even he, who steadily worked up a good pace, barely went past the bat. Ntini was flayed in his first spell, and with all 10 wickets intact, and 82 runs whittled away from the total, the day ended on a note of relief.