Monday, December 27, 2010

Inspired India take lead on dramatic day

An hour into the day's play at a sunny Kingsmead it seemed the series was dead and buried as India's tail wilted in the face of some relentless quick bowling, but it soon come roaring back to life as the returning Zaheer Khan inspired a barely believable turnaround. There was also a fortuitous Jacques Kallis run-out, an unplayable legcutter from Sreesanth, and some outstanding catches - including No. 200 for Rahul Dravid - all of which led to India taking a priceless 74-run first-innings lead.
On the first day, the track had plenty of juice in it, making life difficult for India's batting line-up, but with the sun shining on the second day, the batsmen were expecting an easier time - only for 14 wickets to fall for 153 runs. Most Indian fans would associate Durban with the infamous drubbing dished out in 1996, when India were bowled out for 100 and 66 in their two innings, but it hasn't been the best ground for South Africa either in recent times: they made 138 against Australia in 2008-09, and 133 against England last year, and this time fared even worse, folding for 131.
Things were going to plan for South Africa till ten minutes before lunch, by when they had moved to 67 for 2 with their middle-order bulwarks, Hashim Amla and Kallis, building a partnership. Amla punched a ball back towards Ishant Sharma, who half-fielded it and unintentionally parried it back onto the stumps at the non-striker's end, catching a diving Kallis out of his ground. Worse followed for South Africa, when de Villiers was dismissed by a ripper from a hitherto off-colour Sreesanth, bouncing sharply and cutting away to surprise the batsman, who thumbed it to the keeper.
Still, there was no need to panic as Amla continued to be in supreme form. His back-foot drives were the stand-out shots in a calming innings for the South African fans, but he missed an offbreak from Harbhajan Singh to be struck in front of middle and out lbw for 33. Like most other batsmen in the match, he too failed to convert his start; this was only the seventh time since 1935 that no batsman from either team has made a half-century in the first innings.
The last specialist batsman, Ashwell Prince, was troubled by Zaheer's movement right through his innings. He made an edge-filled 13 before finally falling to Zaheer; the ball cannoned onto the stumps as he attempted a footwork-free drive.
It continued the outstanding work Zaheer had done with the new ball, that too with little support from a wayward Sreesanth. If India were demoralised by their limp batting, Zaheer showed no signs of it. He was accurate, relentlessly attacking the stumps, extracting movement and frequently mouthing off at the batsmen. He was rewarded with the wicket of Graeme Smith - for the 10th time in Tests - as a leaden-footed prod ended in MS Dhoni's gloves. Then, a confident Alviro Petersen walked across the stumps to a Zaheer delivery, attempting to work the ball to the leg side, but had the misfortune of seeing his bails dislodged as the ball was dragged back from his pads.
A lead for India didn't look on the cards in the morning, when Steyn and Morkel ripped out the four remaining wickets in under 10 overs. Steyn completed his 15th five-wicket haul, and Morkel pitched it up to hassle the tail-enders. There was a brief counterattack from MS Dhoni, hammering Steyn over long-off for six after top-edging a four over the keeper. He soon holed out to sweeper cover before Sreesanth picked up a golden duck when an attempted mow traveled only as far as the wicketkeeper.

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