Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tendulkar guides India after Steyn burst

Dale Steyn bowled only 13 overs in the first two sessions of the third day, but to India's batsmen it was an eternity. Rarely in the modern era does a fast bowler threaten with every ball, like Steyn did at Newlands. He charged in at full pelt off a long run on the hottest day of the Test, his sinewy body straining to the limit, and subjected hapless batsmen to a barrage of outswingers that curved in towards middle stump before searing away off the pitch. His spells in the first session were among the finest unrewarded efforts and India, with luck and application, survived them to claw forward in the deciding Test. After lunch, however, Steyn's luck changed with the second new ball, and his sustained hostility during a spell, that was unbelievably more aggressive than the first, yielded two wickets, and set India back considerably.
For India, there was Sachin Tendulkar. He dragged the innings along when all others apart from Gautam Gambhir failed, relying on the strength of his mind, faith in his technique and a little bit of luck to reach his 51st century. It will rank among his finest because of the rigorous examinations he passed. Tendulkar was beaten innumerable times by Steyn's outswingers, beaten several times by Lonwabo Tsotsobe extra bounce outside off stump, and cut in half repeatedly by Morne Morkel's jagging in-cutters. But Tendulkar survived, and attacked when he could. His 176-run stand with Gambhir gave India the edge, which vanished once four wickets fell for 43 runs. In Harbhajan Singh, Tendulkar had a fighting partner, and their unbroken partnership of 69 once again helped India claw forward by reducing the deficit to 46.
The first over from Steyn was an example of how to begin a day. His first ball sped into Tendulkar, landed on good length, reared up, seamed away late and beat the bat. The second was fuller, swung away and took the edge as Tendulkar lunged forward. Mark Boucher caught it too, diving forward, but his appeal had little support from Steyn. The third fell short of gully, again off Tendulkar's edge, and he brought up his half-century, having resumed overnight on 49. The fourth beat the bat as well. For the fifth, Tendulkar stood out of his crease to counter the swing and drove to the extra-cover boundary. He defended the sixth, and had survived the best over of the Test.
For 53 minutes, the spectators at the Calvin Grove only got to see Tendulkar's batting from behind, while those at the Wynberg End had the same view of Gambhir. Tendulkar faced all five overs of Steyn's first spell, while Gambhir negotiated Morkel. The runs came only in twos and fours, a lot of them through edges, and 42 out of the first 50 balls were dots.
Steyn did not start at top speed because he was focusing on swing but he soon revved it up. Tendulkar defended several outswingers confidently, but there were uncertain moments. Morkel began his spell by testing Gambhir's patience with a succession of short-of-a-length deliveries that bounced steeply outside off stump. Only in the eighth over of the day did Gambhir's discipline in leaving deliveries outside off waver, and he was beaten often.
Tsotsobe replaced Steyn for the 61st over and continued the trend of beating Tendulkar's bat. Tendulkar responded with a powerful pull to the midwicket boundary and a carve over gully. In Tsotsobe's next over, the 13th of the morning, Tendulkar flicked through midwicket for the day's first single.
Soon Paul Harris' deliveries were jumping at Gambhir for he was bowling wider, aiming for the rough. One ball in the 72nd over leapt at Gambhir and kissed the glove but Boucher failed to take a tough chance. The next ball was straighter and took the edge, this time Boucher held it. Harris could have had Tendulkar as well, had he been quick enough to catch a ball that was travelling at scary speed. Instead, he got Laxman out as the ball hurt his fingers as it brushed them and broke the stumps at the non-striker's end.
India resumed after lunch on 237 for 4 and Steyn was back at his best. After five dot balls, he produced an outswinger to rival the one that bowled Michael Vaughan. This time, Cheteshwar Pujara's pad was in the way. MS Dhoni lasted three balls, wafting at one that swerved away to slip. Harbhajan looked like he would get out every ball, so hapless was he against Steyn. One outswinger even clipped his off stump, but the bails stayed on.
Tendulkar tried to take strike as Steyn approached his five-overs-per-spell limit and shield Harbhajan. He had brought up his century by top-edging a hook off Morkel for six over the wicketkeeper. He had been cut in half by the previous ball.
Both Tendulkar and Harbhajan scored more freely against the other bowlers. Harbhajan mowed Tsotsobe for six over the leg side, and when Steyn returned for a fiery burst just before tea, Harbhajan lofted him over the long-on boundary to bring the deficit below fifty. Through it all, was Tendulkar, cutting, uppercutting and driving India forward.

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