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Steyn-ed by SA steel

India were battling to save the first cricket Test as they followed on after being shot out for 233 in the first innings by South Africa, Dale Steyn taking career-best seven wickets, on the third day in Nagpur. Kadambari Murali Wade reports...

cricket Updated: Feb 09, 2010 01:25 IST
Kadambari Murali Wade

3.4-2-3-5. Dale Steyn's figures over 36 minutes after tea, pretty much summed up India's day and where this match now stands.

So what did India need in this game? Someone who could bowl like South African paceman Steyn and render the slowness of the wicket inconsequential; someone who could put his head down and bat like Rahul Dravid (desperately missed); and someone — anyone! — who could stand there and take the fight to the Proteas.

You know what they got instead: Bowlers who were rendered ineffective by the wicket; absolute proof of just how vulnerable India are in a Dravidless-Laxmanless set-up; and capitulation, capitulation, capitulation.

For a brief while, for the two and a half hours that Virender Sehwag and debutant Subramaniam Badrinath batted together in the first innings and put on 136 for the fourth wicket, India looked in some sort of comfort zone. Before and after that, it was messy stuff.

While Sehwag was standing in the middle though, with Badrinath looking twitchy but hanging in there, it looked like the early loss of Gautam Gambhir, M Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar, within 48 minutes of the start of the third day's play, could be negated.

But even though he cruised to his 18th century, Sehwag was in a strange, watchful mood, at least through the first session. It's a rare Sehwag knock for instance, which features not a single hit over the ropes. He would not go, as is his wont, after the bowling, uncaring as to whether the delivery was a good one or was asking to be smacked. Instead, he settled for some smart running and punishing the bad balls.

It was still delightful stuff, as Sehwag's knocks generally are, it just wasn't vintage Sehwag. That though, could probably be put down to the fact that in this innings, in Dravid and Laxman's absence and faced with 558 runs for the opposition, Sehwag knew how much the team depended on him to stay there and get them within touching distance.

He tried and while he did far better than every other Indian batsman, he failed. South Africa set him up beautifully, having 20-year-old Wayne Parnell bowl a widish line to him, one that begged Sehwag to reach out and whack the ball.

The Indian vice-captain obliged twice in that over, with similar looking shots through the off. The next one was too wide even for Proteas keeper Mark Boucher, who was later taken to hospital with back spasms. But Parnell stayed with that line, Sehwag made a wild slash at the next ball and was gone, caught in the cover region. He did not raise his bat to the pavilion as he came back, head alternately looking up at the heavens and bowed. He knew India were in deep trouble.

And they were. Paul Harris, who repeatedly stated before this game that the world thought his left arm spin “rubbish”, kept to a restrictive line that struck gold shortly after tea. Dhoni was done in by a ball that hit the rough just outside leg stump and kicked up and back even as he raised his arms thinking it would go past. It kissed glove and was scooped up by Kallis in the slips.

And after that, we had the Steyn show.