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No respite: Dale-stain taints India yet again

cricket Updated: Dec 27, 2010 01:38 IST
Subhash Rajta
Subhash Rajta
Hindustan Times
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On Boxing Day when fast bowlers landed all the punches, India soaked the blows a shade better than Australia had done a few hours earlier at the MCG. That would still have come as cold comfort to MS Dhoni's team who once again crumbled against the exploding pace of Dale Steyn and Co.

The Indian skipper still would have been glad to come away with first innings hopes still lingering despite the visitors being reduced to 183 for six when poor light stopped play at Kingsmead. Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh were holding up things after the top order toppled in similar fashion to the opening day's play at Centurion. Australia had been skittled for 98 but Indian hopes of salvaging the series looked as precarious as that of the Aussies.

The whole of India must have sent up a prayer as Dhoni walked out for the toss. But nothing seems to change his luck as he lost it again (13th loss in 14 Tests), inducing a wry smile from his counterpart Graeme Smith and a big jeer from the festive Durban crowd.

One could debate that toss doesn't play a crucial role beyond a point but in conditions like in Durban on Sunday it did.

On a wicket buttressed with lavish sprinkling of grass and overcast conditions and overnight rain freshening it up further, it wouldn't be wrong to say the toss won looked a job half done.

The bowlers still needed to bowl well to make use of the conditions but that's almost a given when someone like Steyn is on a purple patch and has Morne Morkel to back him up. Steyn came good yet again with his furious pace and picked up four wickets to leave India huffing and puffing at the end.

The South African attack, however, couldn't make an early breakthrough as they did in almost similar conditions in Centurion. Virender Sehwag and Murali Vijay, who came in for the injured Gautam Gambhir, did well to deny them success until the 11th over when Steyn forced Sehwag to edge the ball that angled away to be caught at slip.

“I knew there was enough in the wicket and it was just a matter of time before they would make some mistake. I kept pleading with Smith to give me one more over and I got the wicket in that over,” said Steyn.

And as is often the case, Sehwag's dismissal gave the bowlers the window of opportunity they had been waiting for.

Soon they were all over the Indian batsmen. Steyn sucked Vijay into an away-moving delivery, Sachin Tendulkar made the mistake of chasing a wide and rising delivery from Tsotsobe, Dravid couldn't help but edge a superb delivery from Steyn, Laxman fell to a superb catch by Tsotsobe at mid on off Steyn, and Cheteshwar Pujara went trying an unwarranted pull.

The most disappointing aspect of India's batting was the failure of everyone to turn the starts.