India on the ropes
Hair raising… Kallis 102* and Amla 116* put Proteas in control
Day 2 of 5 India 136 South Africa 366/2 BLOW after punishing blow has landed on India’s reputation in this first Test, and as yet the world’s No 1 side has failed to land a counter punch.
This has so far been about as an insipid a performance as there’s been by one of the leading cricket nations to tour this country.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, so renowned for his innovative and brave captaincy, let the game drift yesterday.
It was as if his wicket off the third ball of the day that signalled the end of the Indian innings, also meant the end of all hope of a win in this match... All hope wasn’t gone by that stage – by stumps it probably had disappeared.
On the other hand the South Africa side has been ruthlessly efficient.
They’ve blitzed the tourists with the ball, and yesterday there was an intensity about their batting that once more spoke to their careful strategising, confidence and massive motivation for this series.
Having toured India twice in the last 21 months and taken series leads into the final Tests on both occasions, only to come up short, they were looking forward to giving India a proper workout in conditions in which they’ve never convinced.
This pitch is just that – though there are no demons, it has bounce and that played a part in unsettling the Indian batsmen on day one, and yesterday their seam bowlers got carried away trying to bounce the South Africans.
That was one of the plans they tried yesterday.
Like most of the others it didn’t work very well, not only because they couldn’t sustain it, but because the short balls was also poorly directed.
They failed to build pressure, and as the day wore on, they wilted and the South African batsmen thrived.
Morné Morkel ensured there’d be no dramatic tail-end revival by claiming the final Indian wicket inside the first minute of the day’s play, in the process claiming career-best figures of 5/20.
Thereafter the emphasis was on the Indian seam bowlers and mainly their top two, Sree Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma, to try and match the impact made by Morkel and Dale Steyn on the first day.
They fell well short. It’s not that the pitch was any less lively, just that the Indians had lacked the necessary accuracy and pace to trouble the South African openers, Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen.
The absence of Zaheer Khan was definitely felt.
Rarely did the three seamers Dhoni employed beat the bat, had Zaheer been playing he would have done so more often.
South Africa’s opening batsmen were extremely watchful to start with – just 19 runs were scored in the first 10 overs – but it was certainly a better strategy to adopt than that of Virender Sehwag who lasted just three balls in India’s innings.
With the shine knocked off the ball Smith and Petersen increased their scoring tempo, with both taking on the short ball with relish, while Petersen played some beautiful shots through the cover region.
Having seen off the seam bowlers without much trouble, they took to attacking Harbhajan Singh – India’s most senior bowler – from the start.
Petersen swept the first ball he received from the off-spinner over square leg for six, while Smith played a couple of lovely cuts off the backfoot.
One of those brought about his downfall but by then he’d done the main part of his job having put on 111 for the first wicket.
Petersen, who played with lots of style became Harbhajan’s second victim, just as he too looked set for a century.
But rather than providing a hint of an opening for the visitors, all those two wickets did was bring together Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis a duo who before yesterday had shared nine century partnerships, two of them over 300 and another two over 200.
They achieved their third double century stand yester- day, and while some of their shot-making was of the highest class, it must said India’s bowling couldn’t have been more puerile.
Landmarks were achieved by both; Kallis notched a 38th Test century – putting him third all time behind Ricky Ponting (39) and Sachin Tendulkar (49) on the list of leading century-makers in Tests – while Amla brought up the 12th of his career, and the fourth one in a row against India this year.
Kallis’ innings was fluent, in keeping with his more attacking attitude of late, which many view as a result of Amla’s steadiness ahead of him in the order.
Amla’s knock was scratchy for the most part, but no one in the South African dressing room was complaining.
Why would they – they lead by 230 runs, there are three days to go, Amla and Kallis are well set and AB de Villiers is still to come.
Just like the overall theme of this series, it is India who have it all to prove over the remainder of this match. Do they have the stomach for the fight?
ONE TON, TWO TON: Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla punished the Indian bowling at Centurion yesterday.