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Restless India press on

All the uncertainties in the game of glorious uncertainties are not directly related to bat and ball. The elements play a crucial role at times and needing something extraordinary to save the second Test, South Africa found a friend in rain to just about stay alive for one more day, Atreyo Mukhopadhyay reports.

cricket Updated: Feb 18, 2010 00:46 IST
Atreyo Mukhopadhyay

All the uncertainties in the game of glorious uncertainties are not directly related to bat and ball. The elements play a crucial role at times and needing something extraordinary to save the second Test, South Africa found a friend in rain to just about stay alive for one more day. Little wonder then, that the rain dancers in their ranks will work as hard as the remaining batsmen when the action shifts to the final day.

Those in the Indian team who woke up early and took a peek out of the window, must have been disheartened by the sight of roads left wet by the unseasonal overnight rain that hit the city late on Tuesday. A damp outfield delayed the start by 93 minutes and a combination of another wet spell and bad light allowed just 34.5 overs on Wednesday before play was finally called off.

It was a chilling reminder of the second Test between India and the West Indies in St Lucia in 2006, when India needed nine wickets in two days to win and got just six on the final day after watching the fourth day being washed out.

The crucial difference between this Test and that is, in the 158 minutes of play at Eden Gardens, India plucked out three South African wickets including two of their most reliable batsmen - Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis.

Smith's team is not new to high-intensity cricket. They are coming off a strong performance at home against England although that series ended in a draw and last season they shared the spoils with Australia after bitterly-fought home and away series.

Facing Indian spinners towards the end of a Test with a huge deficit, however, is a hurdle they are yet to clear.

So, even if the Indian attack swung between being good, bad and mediocre, South Africa kept losing wickets, and with them the moments.

Zaheer Khan was the only bowler to ask serious questions initially, as India started with him and Harbhajan Singh. Ishant Sharma bowled an indifferent short spell before being replaced by Amit Mishra and it seemed the visitors would survive the first hour without casualties.

The leg-spinner deceived Smith in the air and off the pitch first ball to win a leg-before shout. Mishra wasn't consistent with length and dropped it short on both sides before producing one that spun across the face of Kallis's bat and kissed the shoulder of the bat for M.S. Dhoni to complete a crucial catch.

Kallis’ wicket was poetic justice for Mishra who had seen similar balls miss the edge several times in the first Test.

Ishant continued to disappoint even when he tried the short-pitched stuff and hardly made the batsmen play when he bowled full, while Zaheer went off the ground for a while with what coach Gary Kirsten later described as "a tightening of the quadriceps" which is not serious. The biggest encouragement for India was Harbhajan and the turn and bounce he got.

There will be more of that if play starts on Thursday and as Kallis put it, it would be a day to "emerge heroes". It's to be seen which team the heroes emerge from.