Monday, January 03, 2011

3rd Test: India win toss but lose initiative

The setting was surreal for a Test match. Almost an entire day's cricket was played under lights as dark, grey clouds hung lazily over Newlands Stadium, and the Table Mountain which stands in the west.

It was only during the final hour of play that the colour blue, along with the sun, made an appearance on the horizon. Those who want ICC to introduce day-night Test matches would have been happy.

Conditions were not easy but the players from both sides stood up to contrive an intense, engaging day's play. With the series at stake, did they have any option? It was cricket at its attritional best, sometimes a bit staid but fascinating nevertheless as the two teams tried to pull away on the first day of the third Test on Sunday.

It was a stop-start day and play was interrupted twice due to light drizzle. Thankfully, play resumed quickly on both occasions. When the umpires finally called stumps, at 7.04 pm local time, South Africa were 232/4 off 74 overs. The peerless Jacques Kallis is providing leadership once again as the hosts look to bounce back from the stunning loss in Durban.

Once Kallis makes up his mind that he is going to stay at the wicket, he is almost impossible to dislodge. He seemed to be in that zone on Sunday, having played 169 balls for his industrious 81. He now has 1783 runs at this ground (in his 18th Test) and looks set for many more.

It does not take rocket science to understand that India need to somehow get rid of this man first thing on Day Two. Dhoni had said on Saturday that the toss would be important as it would give the seamers a chance to utilize helpful conditions.

Well, he won the toss, for a change. Surprisingly, though, the ball did not appear to do much despite the overcast conditions, though it later emerged the players thought otherwise. The Indian pace trio had to work hard to extract purchase from the wicket.

Probably, the ball getting wet due to a soggy ground negated attempts to swing it, a repeat of what happened to South African bowlers on the first day of the second Test at Durban.

Harbhajan Singh, who was pressed into service in the 34th over, struggled to get any spin from the pitch. He was more a stock bowler on the day than a shock one.

Zaheer Khan gave India a headstart by consuming Graeme Smith again - the regularity with which he does that is becoming ridiculous - with a beauty which came in just a bit. Ishant Sharma complemented the effort by snaring Alviro Peterson with another superb delivery which swung away.

With the openers gone for 34, India had landed some hard opening blows. But Kallis and Hashim Amla weathered the storm and brought back balance into proceedings.

It was a delicate phase of play as another wicket and India would have been on top. What the Kallis-Amla duo also did was to soon start looking out for runs.

It was Amla who took the lead and played some wristy drives and flicks, even hitting Zaheer for three fours in an over. He undid the good work by trying one hook too many, this time off Sreesanth while on the front foot, and top-edged to Pujara.

Sreesanth gave India another fillip by producing one of his vicious outswingers to get rid of AB de Villiers. At 164/4, it was nicely poised before Kallis and Prince gave the hosts some hope.

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