To win matches you have to win sessions and to win sessions you have to win moments. There can be countless moments in a Test match. In isolation, they don’t look enormous but taken together they often define its destiny. A combination of things highlighted by the doggedness to stick to their plan won India all the moments on Day III and pushed South Africa to a corner from where they need something extraordinary to protect their 1-0 lead and snatch the world No. 1 crown.
It took lots of patience, flashes of class, dollops of luck, and in good measure the knowledge of how to grind to dust an attack which had been softened up a day earlier. India ensured that the advantage they had was consolidated on. A best-ever seventh-wicket partnership for the country between V.V.S. Laxman and M.S. Dhoni and India’s highest total against South Africa were byproducts of the monumental job done by the two.
There was work to be done when play began on a gloomy Tuesday. Unafraid to put bat to ball, Amit Mishra kept South Africa waiting for 52 minutes for their first breakthrough which came in the 12th over. The second new ball was just four overs old at that point, forcing Laxman and Dhoni to be cautious. They blunted the new ball gradually by making the most of loose deliveries and brought the bowlers to their knees before Dhoni declared when the stand was worth 257.
If Mishra’s plucky stay in the middle was the first crucial moment of the day, the second was the way India survived Dale Steyn’s incisive out-swing with the second new ball. He made it move exaggeratedly at times and the seven-over burst was perhaps one of the best spells in recent times that failed to take an edge. Inadequate support from Morne Morkel and Jacques Kallis, who failed to make the batsmen play often enough, was a crucial reason India won this moment too.
Despite having four quicks, Graeme Smith had to introduce Paul Harris 15 overs after changing the ball and Dhoni stamped his authority on this moment by lifting the spinner for a six in the first over of his new spell.
Before and after this, the South Africans induced several edges. Some of them flew past the fielders and some were dropped. That South Africa were not going to have their moment of the day became clear when Steyn’s first ball after lunch was caressed through the covers by Laxman.
The feature of the partnership was the application displayed, and both batsmen were determined to be there after being assured by Virender Sehwag that there was no time pressure.
The clinical and ruthless association also made sure that with a minimum of 185 overs remaining in the match and with 341 runs more to play around with, time isn’t a problem for the bowlers either.
With the best time to bat on this pitch gone now, South Africa are certain to face many anxious moments against two spinners licking their lips.
There is weather concern over the fourth day's play. The Met office has predicted partly cloudy sky thundershowers in some areas of the city. The home side, however, would hope that the rains stay away.