No words for the carnage

2010-12-28 00:00

SOUTH Africa and India served up a most remarkable day of Test cricket at Kingsmead yesterday, with 18 wickets tumbling for 240 runs in supposedly favourable batting conditions.

India were 92 for 4 in their second innings after the Proteas had offered up their annual Kingsmead crumble in a dismal reply of just 131.

“We batted extremely poorly,” was AB de Villiers’s honest appraisal of yesterday’s events.

There was no easy way to fathom the procession, as everything pointed to a veritable run-glut. The sun came out, a decent crowd came in, and when India’s last four wickets were knocked off for the addition of just 22 runs, the Proteas looked set to fill their boots for the rest of the day.

How wrong that assumption proved to be. Had the ball jagged and seamed about under grey skies, perhaps one could more easily stomach the wicket buffet that the world’s best two sides served up.

“There is something in it for the bowlers, but that wasn’t a true reflection of the wicket,” De Villiers added.

There were some peculiar dismissals, but mainly it was down to some very ordinary cricket shots by some of the world’s best batsmen.

The visitors had resumed on 183 for 6 intent on getting to a total touching 250, perhaps. Instead, they lasted all of 45 minutes as Dale Steyn ended with the fine figures of 6 for 50, while Morne Morkel found a better length to earn two wickets. Harbhajan Singh fell early, smartly snapped up by De Villiers at third slip off Steyn, and the “Phalaborwa Express” also had skipper MS Dhoni caught at deep cover as India folded with a whimper.

But it is often said that a team’s innings should be judged against their opposition’s reply. South Africa’s reply suggested that the Indians had rather over-achieved in breaching 200.

The return of Zaheer Khan proved crucial as the warhorse provided a cutting edge that had been lacking in the first Test. Harbhajan had suggested that the Indians would be fine without him at Centurion, but he changed his tune after a fine return from the left-arm veteran.

“Zaheer is the man,” Harbhajan admitted. “It’s not just the wickets he took, he also helped the other bowlers out there,” the spinner said of the swing merchant. Khan also picked up where he had left off against Graeme Smith, getting the Proteas skipper to play across a delivery, with the edge flying to a delighted Dhoni behind.

Hashim Amla, playing his 50th Test, got off the mark with a pair of spanking back-foot cover drives and the scene looked set for the Durbanite to mark his special match with a fitting knock. Even the peculiar loss of Alviro Petersen (24) seemed a minor setback, as the opener was very unlucky to see a leg-side delivery flick the bottom of his thigh-pad and then dart back on to his leg-stump off the bowling of Khan. But when Jacques Kallis was run out at the bowler’s end, after Ishant Sharma had feathered an Amla drive, the alarm bells started ringing.

AB de Villiers, the slayer from Centurion, was then undone by a fine delivery from Sree Sreesanth as the Proteas went to lunch on 74 for 4 in desperate need of a partnership.

It never came.

Amla’s demise was sudden, out leg before to the combative Harbhajan not long after the interval. Having sailed serenely to 33, Amla’s departure was a dagger to South African hopes. Ashwell Prince (13), who had looked ill at ease, then chopped the rampant Zaheer on to his stumps to expose the SA tail.

Regulars at Kingsmead are getting used to a Proteas capitulation. Of course, it doesn’t make it any less of a surprise. Smith’s men suffered at the hands of Mitchell Johnson in early 2009, while the last Boxing Day affair in Durban saw Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann run riot.

This time it was Khan (3 for 36) and Harbhajan (4 for 10) who did the damage as the Proteas melted in the heat of battle. Harbhajan mopped up the tail with spectacular reflexes, landing Rahul Dravid his 200th Test catch to get rid of Steyn. The Proteas, having expected to build a hearty lead, suddenly found themselves in arrears by 74 runs.

Virender Sehwag threatened to really turn the knife as he blazed a cavalier 32 off 31 balls before he flashed Lonwabo Tsotsobe to Mark Boucher.

Tsotsobe, developing a taste for big wickets, also had Dravid caught behind, as the veteran also fell into the trap of trying to hit the back-up seamer out of the attack.

It was priceless for the Proteas, though, and Morkel snaffled Murali Vijay (9) before Steyn claimed the prize scalp of Sachin Tendulkar to get the Proteas back into the contest.

A contest it most certainly is, and India will know that much rests on how they start this morning.

Equally certain is that 18 wickets won’t tumble today. There are only 16 left in the match as it stands.

Scoreboard

India first innings 205 (V. Laxman 38, M. Dhoni 35; D. Steyn six for 50)

South Africa first innings

A. Petersen b Zaheer 24

G. Smith c Dhoni b Zaheer 9

H. Amla lbw b Harbhajan 33

J. Kallis run out 10

A. de Villiers c Dhoni b Sreesanth 0

A. Prince b Zaheer 13

M. Boucher not out 16

D. Steyn c Dravid b Harbhajan 1

P. Harris c Pujara b Harbhajan 0

M. Morkel c Harbhajan b Ishant 10

L. Tsotsobe c Vijay b Harbhajan 0

Extras: (lb-2, w-1, nb-12) 15

Total (all out, 37.2 overs) 131

Fall of wickets: 1-23 2-46 3-67 4-74 5-96 6-100 7-103 8-103 9-127 10-131

Bowling: Zaheer 13-2-36-3, Sreesanth 8-0-41-1 (5-nb, 1-w), Ishant 9-2-42-1 (7-nb), Harbhajan 7.2-2-10-4

India second innings

V. Sehwag c Boucher b Tsotsobe 32

M. Vijay c Amla b Morkel 9

R. Dravid c Boucher b Tsotsobe 2

S. Tendulkar c De Villiers b Steyn 6

V. Laxman not out 23

C. Pujara not out 10

Extras: (b-2, lb-4, w-4) 10

Total: (for 4, 30.5 overs) 92

Fall of wickets: 1-42 2-44 3-48 4-56.

To bat: M. Dhoni, Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ishant Sharma, S. Sreesanth

Bowling (to date): Steyn 7-1-27-1 (1-w), Morkel 7-1-17-1 (1-w), Tsotsobe 6.5-2-16-2 (1-w), Kallis 6-1-18-0 (1-w), Harris 4-1-8-0

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