Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tendulkar steers India through torrid session

The first session of the third day was unadulterated entertainment. It contained hostile fast bowling, determination from Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir, innumerable plays, misses and edges, and only two wickets and 95 runs. With a little more fortune, South Africa could have picked up a handful of wickets in that enthralling session - they beat the bat and hit the edge so many times. They got only two. Gautam Gambhir's dismissal ended the overnight partnership at 176 and VVS Laxman's wicket was the result of a dropped catch and the little bit of fortune South Africa richly deserved. So though Sachin Tendulkar progressed towards his 51st Test century and India shaded the session, the hosts will enjoy their lunch a little bit more.
The first over from Steyn was an example of how to begin a day. There were no warm-up deliveries. His first ball angled into Tendulkar, landed on good length, reared up and seamed away late. Tendulkar prodded tentatively from his crease and was beaten. The second ball 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, and umpire Ian Gould said not out with conviction. The third ball 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. There were no singles during this period as Tendulkar faced all five overs of Steyn's first spell, while Gambhir negotiated Morkel. The runs came in twos and fours, a lot of them through edges, and 42 out of the first 50 balls were dots.
Steyn's spell was intense. He did not start at top speed because he was focusing to swing but he soon revved it up, sending down a volley of perfectly pitched outswingers. Tendulkar countered, making an initial movement forward and towards the off to adjust to the movement. He defended several confidently, but there were uncertain moments, like the time he tried to pull out of a shot but was too late, and the ball cannoned off the bat through the gap between second slip and gully.
Morkel began his spell by testing Gambhir's patience with a succession of short-of-a-length deliveries that bounced steeply outside off stump. Gambhir left the first eight and fended the first ball aimed at his body awkwardly for four down leg side. Only in the eighth over of the day did Gambhir's discipline in leaving deliveries outside off begin to waver. He mis-timed a drive to cover, pushed away from his body and edged through the cordon, and drove a half volley through the off side. Morkel then began to bowl fuller outside off, and Gambhir began to chase, and was beaten repeatedly.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who had induced three edges on the second day, replaced Steyn for the 61st over and continued the trend of beating the bat, seaming two deliveries past Tendulkar's bat from over the wicket. 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.
With Jacques Kallis off the field because of a side strain, Paul Harris' left-arm spin gave India respite from the all-pace attack. Both Tendulkar and Gambhir played him with more intent, coming out of the crease to drive through the off side. The intensity of the test had decreased a notch with Steyn and Morkel refueling, but Tsotsobe produced enough deliveries from round the wicket that whizzed past Tendulkar's attempted drives, cuts and defensive strokes. In the middle of all the uncertainty against Tsotsobe, Tendulkar played one wonderfully assured straight drive. It was that sort of battle.
Gambhir also had moments of trouble against Tsotsobe, when one delivery jumped and hurt his elbow on the right hand. Soon Harris' deliveries were jumping at Gambhir, from a line wider than the one he bowled yesterday. 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 and Harris celebrated animatedly.
Harris could have had Tendulkar caught and bowled as well, had he been quick enough to hold on to a ball that was travelling at him at scary speed. Instead, he got Laxman as the ball hurt his fingers as it brushed them and broke the stumps at the non-striker's end. The nimblest batsmen might not have had a chance, but Laxman was merely lounging outside his crease.
Steyn returned for a second spell, with the second new ball, shortly before lunch and produced a replay of his first ball of the day, this time to Cheteshwar Pujara. India went into lunch trailing by 125 but they will have to do the hard work against Steyn and Morkel all over again

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