Officially, there were 404 minutes of play on the penultimate day of the Test match. But really, there were only three moments when the Saturday crowd gasped in attention during the course of play.
The first was at 9:58 am, when Virender Sehwag flashed Makhaya Ntini to Neil McKenzie, having added only 10 to his overnight 309, and was dismissed well short of Brian Lara’s record Test score.
The second was at 10:09 am, and this time the crowd felt silent in a collective sigh of disappointment when Sachin Tendulkar, in a match where much lesser batsmen have tucked in, fell for a duck. Again it was Ntini who benefited, with Jacques Kallis safely pouching the catch in the slips cordon.
The third moment, a happy one, came when Rahul Dravid flicked a ball from Morne Morkel off his pads through mid-wicket and picked up a single that took him to 80, and to 10,000 Test runs. Even as he ambled the single, his hands were aloft, as the giant screen flashed a congratulatory message and his teammates stood as one to applaud the achievement.
The rest of the day was a disappointment, but after the high of the third day, almost anything would have left fans hoping for more.
Normal service resumes
The hectic pace of scoring of the third day was replaced by a listless, ambling batting performance once Sehwag was dismissed. Dravid, while accumulating runs, has not been at his fluent best, but a batsman of his class is unlikely to miss out in favourable conditions, especially given the torrid time he went through on India’s recent tour of Australia.
Dravid’s century came in quiet fashion, but it was significant, for it’s the first time one of the Big Four in the Indian line-up has reached three-figures against South Africa at home. Dravid fell for 111 to the Ntini-Kallis combine, but Sourav Ganguly (24), V.V.S. Laxman (39) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (16) ensured that India went past the South African first innings score, and secured a lead of 87 before the innings ended on 627.
For the best part of this innings it appeared as though Dale Steyn, the most potent of South African bowlers, would go wicketless. For 24 overs he ran in as hard as he could, trying to breach the defences of the batsmen, but failed. The older ball helped though, and when the ball began to swing, reverse in this case, Steyn struck with the 68-over-old ball that came in to the right-handed batsmen.
In a 29-ball spell, he cleaned up four wickets, blasting out the lower order, and could have had a five-for. Dhoni came down the pitch to Steyn and only managed to glove the short ball to the keeper, while Harbhajan Singh, Anil Kumble and RP Singh were all beaten for pace and clean bowled.
South Africa’s strong response, with each batsman digging in and doing his best to preserve his wicket, was only put off track briefly when a drifter from Harbhajan trapped Graeme Smith in front. Neil McKenzie and Hashim Amla, the first innings performers, coasted to the end of the day, taking South Africa to 131 for 1.