We saw at Kingsmead that India have not overcome their deficiencies against hostile fast bowling, and at Newlands on Thursday, Rahul Dravid’s team proved that the South Africans remain vulnerable to spin.
Wasim Jaffer likened the pitch to an Indian surface after he scored a fine century on the first day. Thursday saw India’s patchwork blanket of spinners smother South Africa’s first innings reply in much they same way they might have done at home.
Anil Kumble, of course, took the major responsibility onto his experienced shoulders. He kept the pressure squarely on the South Africans and gained the important wickets of Graeme Smith and Ashwell Prince into the bargain.
Smith looked set for a century before he fell into the trap Kumble set for him by stationing a man at short mid-on and inviting the drive. Kumble refused to allow Prince to settle and undid him with an awkwardly bouncing delivery that the left-hander dragged onto his leg stump.
The South Africans would have expected Kumble to be a threat on any pitch, more so this one. They would have breathed a quiet sigh of relief when India opted not to include Harbhajan Singh. But they would not have been prepared for the challenges posed by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar.
Sehwag — champion gladiator that he is — bristled through his overs like an angry snake. Did Herschelle Gibbs get a touch to the ball that was caught by Jaffer at short-leg? Probably not, but Sehwag all but willed his wicket through sheer force of personality.
Tendulkar’s talent sparkled for all to see as he mixed leg-breaks, off-breaks and seamers. "There’s something very special in that body," said Neil Johnson, the former Zimbabwe test player turned commentator, as he watched Tendulkar flick leg-breaks on the outfield before the start of play.
By contrast, there was nothing special about Jacques Kallis’ heave off Tendulkar to mid-wicket, where Munaf Patel latched onto the catch.
Kallis’ curious stroke, so uncharacteristic of one of the most careful batsmen in the game, could perhaps be blamed on the fact that Tendulkar’s bowling had not taken up much time at South Africa’s team meeting.
So adept were India‘s slow bowlers at making the South Africans squirm at the crease that Rahul Dravid delayed taking the new ball until 35 overs after it was due.
By then India’s three-pronged spin attack had bowled 63 overs, conceded 175 runs and taken four big wickets between them. Stealthily, they gave India their best chance of fashioning an opportunity to shoot for victory in this match. We all know what that could mean.
Once the shine was off that new ball Kumble returned, and the last three wickets fell for one run.
Take a bow, boys. Good job.