and doom to fill Indian hearts. Pujara played on against Morkel -- a
couple of times yesterday defending on the back foot, he played the
ball straight down and spun back, once coming close to the stumps.
This time he defended a bouncing Morkel delivery with an angled bat
and it crashed into the stumps. The lead was still only 166, and
Indian hopes sank lower than the Titanic.
But hang on folks, the roller coaster ride was just beginning.
Dhoni came in, and straight away Steyn was steaming from the other end
into Laxman. India decided to attack, as pure survival would
eventually lead to a wicket. Dhoni has his dancing shoes on. He
straight drrove Morkel for 4, then hooked Steyn over a leaping Amla
for 4, and carved the next ball in the air over point for 4. Later he
edged Morkel through slips for 4.
Interestingly, Smith elected not to have a third man -- a curious
decision as most early runs would come from there -- and the batsmen
made him pay. Laxman steered a Steyn away *** through slips
deliberately with soft hands, and then deliberately swatted a wide
Morkel delivery over slips. He edged Tsosobe -- a rare loose shot --
over slips as he tried to pull from outside off. Smith finally
relented and put in a third man, but not before 5 boundaries went
As drinks came out 40 minutes in, India had added 40 runs in as many
wickets and the lead was just over 200. By and large Morkel and Steyn
(but for one over) had bowled too many balls outside off that the
batsmen had let through. Advantage India.
Just as Dhoni was threatening to carry the game away for India,
Tsotsobe did it again for Smith. He troubled Dhoni and got him
sparring at a delivery outside off. Dhoni walked off livid with
himself, and at 141/6 the tail was wide open. And all fears seemed to
be coming true as Harbhajan fell cheaply. At 148/7, a sub-250 target
seemed the most likely outcome as Zaheer tried to flail away at the
fast bowlers, usually missing.
Laxman hasn't hesitated to let the tail face their share of the
bowling (or even the bulk of it, as in the famous partnership with
Ishant earlier this year). He talked to Zaheer, who settled down to
play some defense. Which begs the question of why he didn't do that
from the start??
India continued to ride their luck as both batsmen had their share of
play and misses -- and this partnership changed the course of the
game. They added 80 incredibly valuable runs, and had some luck.
Zaheer was probably plumb lbw to Steyn but Umpire Davis saw an edge
where there likely wasn't any. Another 30 runs were added before
Zaheer's vigil came to an end, but now the target was inching towards
Laxman had been batting beautifully. He was beaten a few times, but
for the most part his batting showed the incredible timing that is his
hallmark. Some beautiful punches through the off side, and a couple
of pulls, and even dancing down the wicket to inside out Harris to
extra cover, adorned his batting as he moved into the 90s.
Ishant fell and finally Laxman tried to farm the strike. And he fell
to Steyn cruelly at 96. The field had come in to save the single and
Laxman tried to carve a wide Steyn express to the point fence, but
only edged. To put this innings in perspective, no other batsman has
crossed 35 so far. Though he would rue his missed century, he would
surely be satisfied -- a target of 303 was a good 50 runs more than
the most ardent fan would have hoped for. India were huge favorites
at this point.
But the roller coaster wasn't done yet. The new ball was crucial and
Smith knew it. Instead of allowing Zaheer to dictate terms, Smith
simply laid into the bowling, ala Sehwag. Zaheer was pulled after
just 3 overs, and South Africa was off to a flier. At 60/0, the
pendulum had swung back in South Africa's favor, when Smith decided to
indulge in a verbal confrontation with Sreesanth -- sure enough, his
concentration faltered, and he tried to pull a Sreesanth delivery from
outside off, and popped up and Dhoni ran around to grab the skier.
Still South Africa were probably still favorites as India were reeling
from the attack.
Amla came out and showed uncharacteristic aggression, not just with 3
boundaries flying off his blade, but a missed hoick outside off
against Sreesanth. Then Petersen feel pulling Harbhajan Singh onto
his thigh (thin inside edge) to lob up to the perfectly positioned,
relatively strange position, of backward short leg! And next ball,
Sreesanth bowled one even wider outside off, and Amla slashed and
feathered one -- a most uncharacteristic shot. India firmly back
ahead at 83/3, and the old Boycott maxim of "when you feel good about
your score, add twenty runs and two wickets to the score and see how
it looks" was well proven. An over late, Pujara put down Kallis --
very tough chance that came off the full face of the bat straight to
his at backward short leg -- had it been held, RSA would have been
dusted. Kallis & deVilliers saw out the day, until bad light ended
At 111/3, the match is well poised. I have India as 60-40 favorite,
but the weather will play a big role. If there is rain and the pitch
freshens it would rapidly become 75-25 India, but if it dawns bright
and sunny, it is a 50-50 game. An absorbing Test -- don't forget to
set your alarm clock for the morning of D4, for the morning session
will surely be as crucial as today's pre-lunch play.
This and other reports can be found at www.cricketreflections.blogspot.com