Giants of game set for fiery finish

2010-12-29 00:00

THE storm of wickets thankfully abated, but there was still no shortage of drama at Kingsmead yesterday, as the Proteas ended the day on 111 for three, still 192 runs shy of what would be a thrilling victory.

There may have been less timber tumbling, but India and South Africa still gave the patrons plenty of thrills on the third day of an enthralling second Test.

India’s second innings, which had resumed at 92 for four, eventually ended on 228 all out, and one name stood out like a giant beacon.

Graeme Smith and Sree Sreesanth were involved in a spat, with the South African skipper waving his bat vigorously at the fiery Indian paceman at one stage.

Sreesanth had the last word, though, as he had Smith out to a dreadful shot, clearly distracted by whatever personal morsel the bowler had offered him.

The Smith/Sreesanth spat took centre stage at the day’s press conference, with the Proteas enraged that the Indians had crossed “a fine line”.

“I have heard it was personal, and we do not condone that at all,” an incensed Paul Harris said.

“We all know what type of guy Graeme is, and he wouldn’t react to something said unless it was of a personal nature,” the Proteas’ slow bowler added.

Aside from the “handbags”, there was the small matter of a fine knock from one of India’s illustrious middle-order masters.

They call him “Very, Very Special”, and VVS Laxman showed exactly why, as he carved out 96 priceless runs while the rest fell around him.

“Doing well for the team is always my motivation, but it is a pity I couldn’t get to a hundred, because I have never got that in South Africa,” the second-innings specialist reflected.

That he fell just one dreamy drive short of a 17th Test hundred was a shame, for he has towered above any other willow-wielder in this contest.

To put his mastery into context, he still has the two highest scores in the match (38 and 96) — and we are already into the final innings.

Chetheswar Pujara didn’t last long, as he was overwhelmed by the pace and bounce of Morne Morkel. The Proteas beanpole was somewhat disappointing in the first innings, but he exhibited much more control at the second time of asking.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe again displayed an appetite for big wickets, nabbing MS Dhoni to a loose stroke outside off-stump, while Dale Steyn got rid of a nervy Harbhajan Singh on four.

Laxman then found an unlikely ally in Zaheer Khan, who not only hung around, but also engaged in some rather heated debates with Tstotsobe and Steyn.

He fared slightly better against the left-armer, clubbing him for two fours on the stroke of lunch.

Steyn, stomping around like a caged cheetah, put a red cherry on Khan’s helmet badge, as the temperature rose in the middle.

“They came hard at us, but ‘Zak’ was very positive and he did very well for us,” Laxman said.

Khan was gifted a life on 10 by umpire Steve Davis when Steyn had him plumb in front with a swinging yorker, only for the Australian official to say not out because he thought the tail-ender had got a nick on to the ball.

He hadn’t — he hit the ground — and he went on to help add 70 crucial runs to the total.

Tsotsobe ended with a best-ever return of three for 43 in a heartening performance, while Morkel snared three for 47, with the Proteas handed a target of 303.

They started as though they had a plane to catch this morning, as Smith laid into his nemesis, Khan.

It was run-a-ball stuff for the first five overs, as Smith drove especially well.

Just when he looked set to produce another of his fourth innings “Cap’n Crunch” knocks, Smith met Sreesanth, and the red mist came over him.

Whatever was said, Smith will not be proud of the shot he departed with — getting a top-edge to an ambitious pull — and the momentum immediately changed.

Petersen fell timidly soon after, caught at short-leg off Harbhajan Singh, before Hashim Amla chased a wide one after tea to really put the match in the balance.

Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers saw them through to an early finish because of bad light, but there is plenty of fire left in this contest yet.

 

SCOREBOARD

India 1st innings 205 (V. Laxman 38; D. Steyn 6-50).

South Africa 1st innings 131 (H. Amla 33; Harbhajan 4-10)

India 2nd innings 228 (V. Laxman 96; M. Morkel 3-47, L. Tsotsobe 3-43)

South Africa 2nd innings

G. Smith c Dhoni b Sreesanth37

A. Petersen c Pujara b Harbhajan26

H. Amla c Dhoni b Sreesanh16

J. Kallis not out12

A. de Villiers not out17

Extras (nb-3)3

Total (for three wickets, 27 overs)111

Fall of wickets: 1-63, 2-82, 3-82

To bat: A. Prince, M. Boucher, D. Steyn, P. Harris, M. Morkel, L. Tsotsobe

Bowling: Zaheer 6-2-25-0, Ishant 5-0-21-0 (3-nb), Sreesanth 7-0-30-2, Harbhajan 8-0-29-1, Tendulkar 1-0-6-0.

— Reuters.

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