Smith, Amla lead strong SA reply
Both Smith and Amla smash half-tons as hosts are well-placed for a big total. Scorecard | Pics | Jaffer: Cape of good hopeindia Updated: Jan 04, 2007 14:02 IST
As unlikely as it seemed at the end of the first day of the third Test, when India reached a dominant 254-3, they find themselves under pressure at the end of the second day, having been dismissed for 414 before claiming just a single South African wicket.
Graeme Smith led from the front, confirming that his woeful slump in form was over as he guided his team to 144/1 with an unbeaten 76. It would be churlish to suggest that India's failure to capitalise on an excellent first day was a situation of their own making. The truth is that South Africa's bowlers fought back valiantly on a wicket still offering far more encouragement to the batsmen than either seamers or spinners.
India had added just 15 to their overnight 254/3 when the steady procession of the final seven wickets began and South Africa's grim determination to regain a foothold in the Test was rewarded. VVS Laxman (13) could hardly be blamed for missing a wonderful delivery from speedster Dale Steyn that swung just enough to beat the bat and send the off stump cartwheeling.
Sachin Tendulkar continued the slow but almost inevitable return to his best form with an authoritative half-century which included some of his best cover driving and cutting. But having reached 64 from 130 balls and struck 11 fours, the master of 135 Tests was undone by a moment of genius from a man playing his first.
Left arm spinner Paul Harris has the style and grace to make the ugliest of ducklings look like a princess but he has a shrewd cricket brain and, most importantly, he really can bowl. Having flighted a series of deliveries to Tendulkar in a successful attempt to draw him out of his crease, he darted a quicker, shorter delivery towards the advancing batsman and spun it enough to provide Jacques Kallis with a straightforward catch at slip.
Sourav Ganguly's appearance at number six, ahead of Virender Sehwag, surprised even the most ardent of his supporters but it seemed a reasonable decision as he had done nothing to deserve losing his place at number six.
It may have been a decision under review after he had faced his first three deliveries, however. The first, a short ball from Steyn, thudded into his body. The third smashed into the side of his helmet, necessitating a lengthy delay while he cleared the inside of his head and had the outside attended to. The South Africans believed they had their man then and there. "It's just a matter of time now, boys, he's all ours now," shouted Mark Boucher as play finally resumed. And, to be fair, the former captain looked as comfortable and as convincing as a man stepping onto an ice-rink for the first time.
The short ball continued to trouble him, but when the ball was pitched up, especially outside the off-stump, Ganguly showed the touches of class and style on which his reputation was built.
When the eighth and ninth wickets fell, he opened his shoulders and added a brace of fours and a huge six over mid-wicket against Harris.
Sehwag, meanwhile, appeared to relish his belated entrance onto the stage and dominated a sixth-wicket stand of 58 with a quick-fire 40 from 50 balls including six fours and a six off the persevering Harris, who nonetheless deserved his wicket, eventually, when a powerfully struck sweep shot resulted in a fine, low catch by Makhaya Ntini at deep backward square-leg.
Zaheer Khan was smartly stumped while Sreesanth fended Pollock to gully, leaving Ganguly stranded with last man Munaf Patel. A slower ball from Pollock deceived the former skipper and he chipped it fatally in the air to cover, leaving India at least 100 runs short of the target they had set themselves.
Smith signalled his aggressive intent by hooking Zaheer's first ball of the innings for six and then muscling another 11 deliveries to the boundary. Sreesanth gave India hope with his 17th wicket of the series courtesy an inside edge from AB de Villiers in the fourth over.
Smith will resume on Thursday morning in the company of Hashim Amla, who had scored just 18 runs in the opening two Tests but chiselled his way to an unbeaten 50 on Wednesday.
Self-belief will be the key for India on Day Three. The moment they start playing for a draw could be the moment they lose control of the contest completely. The lead, after all, is still highly imposing and Anil Kumble, though he went wicketless, gained enough turn and bounce to suggest he can yet reassert India's control in the game.