The script was absolutely perfect for the touring Proteas on the opening day of the opening Test of the Future Cup 2008. Graeme Smith won the crucial toss to grab the opportunity of batting first on a near lifeless pitch. His batsmen delivered the goods and at stumps on Day 1, South Africa are sitting pretty in the heat of Chennai at 304 for 4.
The entire 90 overs of cricket didn’t really show many signs of the bowlers looking seriously dangerous. Although the wicket stayed low, it was the batsmen making merry all day as their counterparts struggled with the lack of pace in the track. The South African Skipper Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie, the World Record Holders for the Highest 1st Wicket Partnership in Test History continued their rich form in this match as well. The Indian new ball attack of Sreesanth and RP Singh failed to deliver the inroads and soon Anil Kumble had to start thinking quickly to change his team’s fortunes. While Sreesanth was unlucky not to get the breakthrough despite producing some magic deliveries, RP Singh on the other hand looked rusty. The left armer’s lack of match practice due to his comeback from injury showed as he sprayed the ball on both sides of the wicket. Kumble had to bring on himself inside the 10th over itself.
The entire first session gave no joy for the Indians and their new Coach Gary Kirsten. The team went wicketless besides conceding as many as 109 runs in the 25 overs that were bowled. The heat and humidity didn’t help them at all and the players had to take two drinks breaks each session. The afternoon session was a much better one for the home side through the combination of Anil Kumble and Sreesanth. Having got past their half centurions before lunch, the pair of Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie started to consolidate further. Sreesanth at this time started to look dangerous with the ball beginning to reverse. The fast bowler came close to getting Graeme Smith out, when he had got the inside edge of an expansive drive. But Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps couldn’t hold onto a low catch. A few minutes later, Smith added insult to injury with 4 boundaries in an over from Sreesanth. Fortunately the Indians didn’t have to wait for Sreesanth from taking his revenge as the Captain himself delivered with the wicket of Smith. The wicket fell thanks to a well planned fielding position of having a fielder at silly mid on. Graeme Smith failed to put his attempted push along the ground to be caught by Laxman in that position.
Graeme Smith missed out on an easy hundred. He made 73 from just 97 balls with 13 fours in the opening stand of 132 which lasted 33.3 overs. The next batsman, Hashim Amla batted confidently and with Neil McKenzie kept the Indians at bay. McKenzie had slowed down at the start of the 2nd session but soon got into the groove and eventually got himself closer and closer to a century. When on 94, he appeared to have got a nick to the keeper off a straighter one from Harbhajan which was ruled down by the Umpire. But tragedy struck McKenzie when he had opened the face of the blade to run a Harbhajan straighter one straight into the safe hands of Dravid in the slips. McKenzie disappointingly got out on 94 (from 156 balls with 18 fours). He added 64 for the 2nd wicket with Amla before departing in the 51st over. The pair of Amla and Kallis saw their team through the Tea Break at 206 for 2.
In the final session, Hashim Amla blossomed from his score of 31 and Kallis held his end intact. India yet again were struggling to find the breakthrough but fortunately enough, Harbhajan got one to kick a bit extra to force a bat pad from Kallis. The big fish, Kallis was gone without much damage making just 13 (from 42 balls). South Africa didn’t panic even if it lost its best batsman. India’s struggle of wickets continued with Ashwell Prince joining Hashim Amla to steady the situation. It was only a stupendous diving return catch towards his left from Kumble that could break what was turning out to be another promising stand. Prince was trying to check his push off a Kumble delivery that had gripped the surface and stopped. The 37-year-old bowler showed immense commitment by diving full length to his wrong side infront of the non-striker to pluck a sensational catch. Prince had made 23 (from 60 balls).
Hashim Amla along with AB de Villers then saw the day off without any further damage. Amla has got himself to 85 (from 159 balls with 10 fours) and AB de Villiers is on 10. The two Indian frontline spinners bowled over 25 overs each to take a couple of wickets each. If SA can bat well in tomorrow’s morning session, then they can control this Test Match. India haven’t yet taken the second new ball and may not even think about that.