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India’s Eden special

India bounced back late by ripping through the South African middle order and restricting them to a modest 266 for nine as wickets fell like nine pins after tea on a dramatic opening day of the second Test at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, reports Kadambari Murali Wade. Stats speak

cricket Updated: Feb 15, 2010 02:20 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

All it takes for life to change dramatically is a breather, a chat, a change of pace or angle, a ball, a wicket, a moment, a sign.

On Sunday at the Eden, India had their moment 39 minutes after tea when lone slip VVS Laxman ran sideways and back towards a very short fine leg. Thirty-five thousand people held their collective breath as he held on to an offering from Jacques Kallis — who misjudged a top-spinner from Harbhajan Singh that bounced a bit more than expected while he attempted a slog sweep.

Laxman latched on to it with both hands and then gratefully tucked it under his body — and all hell broke loose. The crowd erupted as Harbhajan raised his hands and ran towards Laxman.

With this began that peculiarly joyous duet that only Harbhajan, emotional, flamboyant and playing to the gallery, can get the crowd to sing along in.

Eden rose in thankful celebration twice more in the next 15 minutes, an eight-ball span, as left-handers Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy both failed to read the ball that drifted in, from a Harbhajan coming from around, after landing in line with the off-stump.

Even as South Africa collapsed from a very strong 228-2 at tea to 253-6 exactly an hour after, and the tail appeared with Dale Steyn walking out to join AB de Villiers, the Indian offie ran a mini-victory lap inside the 30-yard circle while his teammates ran to catch up. The crowd, by now quite delirious, had begun a rhythmic chant: "Bhajji, Bhajji, Bhajji". Harbhajan had made Eden his own again.

It rubbed off, that spirit. Seven balls later, Zaheer Khan, ran in from mid-off, scooped up the ball, turned athletically (and very un-Zaheer-like) threw down the stumps at the non-striker's end before de Villiers could regain his ground.

A little after that, Paul Harris slashed Ishant behind, leaving the relieved youngster bidding him adieu with a namaste. And 25 minutes on, Amit Mishra looked towards the heavens in gratitude after Dale Steyn was trapped in front.

For two sessions of the day though, it was all South Africa. Hashim Amla (who fell to Zaheer two balls after tea) and debutant Alviro Petersen, who came in for Mark Boucher (de Villiers will keep) this morning, became only the second non-white South African pair ever to get to a double-century partnership.

Amla's century today matched the one in Nagpur in only one sense — he was there, otherwise, this one was everything the other was not: Where Nagpur was doughty, gritty, often laboured, this one was a fluid tap-dance, wristy flicks mixed with assured drives, light on his feet and wonderful to watch.

He and Petersen, the third South African to get a century on debut, complemented each other beautifully, using the fact that the Indian bowlers were trying too hard to keep them under pressure and keep the runs coming at over 4 an over.

By the time bad light had stumps drawn with nine overs of play left however, and the Proteas wobbling at 266-9, the tables had been turned. When South African bowl on Monday morning — it is likely to be sooner than later — they will look to Steyn to repeat his magic of Nagpur.

Gambhir and Sehwag, with the vocal help of what will surely be an impassioned crowd, will look to stop him.