India face a fourth day defeat after losing as many as 12 wickets on a dramatic third day at Nagpur with Dale Steyn ripping them apart. Following on, India has lost its two prolific openers and has the weak middle order exposed to the energetic Proteas. Though there is a bright little fightback taking place from Sachin Tendulkar along with Murali Vijay, a deficit of 259 more runs look quite a task for the hosts.
Resuming the third day’s play on 25 for no loss, India lost the reliable Gautam Gambhir in the second over of the morning through a magic delivery from Mornel Morkel. The tall fast bowler operating from round the sticks forced Gambhir (12) to play at the angle and produced the thinnest of edges by having the ball to hold its line. Just a few minutes after that a tentative Murali Vijay made an error in judgement offering no shot to an inswinger from outside off bowled by Dale Steyn to get bowled.
In the 15th over, Steyn struck again, this time with a magical outswinger that curled in at good length and had Tendulkar (7) edging his drive to the keeper because of the late swing. India was reduced to 56 for 3 and it was penetrative bowling at both ends from Steyn and Morkel. The hosts could have been easily bundled out at this stage. But debutant Subramaniam Badrinath along with Virender Sehwag weathered the storm with his good footwork. Having bowled Steyn and Morkel for a long spell, Smith was forced to bring in his change bowlers who certainly weren’t threatening enough. Sehwag (63*) and Badrinath (21*) applied themselves to take India to 119 for 3 in 31 overs at lunch time.
The two batsmen – Sehwag and Badrinath continued to bat comfortably in the afternoon session and the semi new ball wasn’t doing a lot. Sehwag played his shots with utmost freedom and though it was a responsible innings, he still got his 18th test century in just 134 balls! He was unlucky to get out in the 47th over though after holing out to deep covers not to a spinner but to a fast bowler that too in a Test match! Wayne Parnell was the bowler who kept on dishing out juicy balls outside off and Sehwag fell for the temptation. It was more like a spinner wicket for the left arm quick but he would take it any day. Sehwag scored 109 in 139 balls with 15 fours and had put on 136 runs with Badri for the fourth wicket.
India Skipper MS Dhoni joined Badrinath few minutes before Tea and both right handers finished the session with lofted shots off part timer JP Duminy. Badrinath had got to a maiden half century in 123 balls in that session and was good to join the list of centurion on Test debut. After Tea in the 58th over, Paul Harris got a lucky wicket in the form of MS Dhoni (6) as he got one to explode off the rough outside leg to catch the glove off the batsman who was casually trying to take the jumping ball on the body. Dhoni’s wicket opened the floodgates for Steyn to run through the rest of the batting in a matter of 30 minutes or so. Just the next over after Dhoni’s exit, Badrinath (56 from 139 balls with 7 fours) wasn’t good enough to flick a sharp inswinger from Steyn along the ground to be caught at short mid wicket.
Three balls after Badrinath’s fall, Wriddhiman Saha (0), the other debutant proved to be a waste for the crowd as he blindly left an inswinger from Steyn to get bowled like Murali Vijay. Zaheer Khan and Amit Mishra saw their stumps shattered by the fast reversing inswingers from Steyn. The innings was all over in the 65th over when Harbhajan played outside the line to a Steyn inswinger to get struck on the back knee plumb infront. India had lost its last five wickets for just 12 runs in the space of seven overs! They collapsed from 221 for 4 to 233 all out by a blistering spell from Dale Steyn. The strike bowler was fast and straight, mixing up the outswingers with the inswingers to have most of the batsmen unawares.
Steyn finished with a rich haul of 7 for 51 in just 16.4 overs. India conceding a huge first innings lead of 325 was asked to follow on with about one and a half hour to go in the day’s play. They lost Gautam Gambhir (1) in the 2nd over itself when the left hander shouldered arms to a good length ball angled in from round the sticks by Morkel but only to have his off stump bail knocked down. Sehwag having scored a century in the afternoon was bound to fail as the law of averages tends to catch up with the players. He was caught edging a cut off Steyn to Smith at first slip to leave India at 24 for 2 in the 5th over. Sehwag had scored 16 from 19 balls with 4 fours and didn’t look fresh enough at the wicket.
It looked as if South Africa could easily knock out three more wickets before the close of play. But one end was left for the unthreatening Paul Harris as the over-rate was pathetic. Murali Vijay tried to make amends of his first innings failure and was determined to show that he was Test Match material. Along with the legend Tendulkar, the youngster saw through the rest of the play with compact defence. Vijay is looking extremely good for his 27 from 68 balls (with 4 fours) while Tendulkar (15 from 48 balls with 2 fours) would be dissapointed if he doesn’t score even a century.
India ended the third day on 66 for 2 in 23 overs and the deficit is down to 259 runs. The hosts would need atleast two big partnerships to keep their pride intact, after all they are the No.1 Test side. The pitch has been pretty good for batsmen to play the long innings, what matters is whether the Indian batsmen have the belief in themselves to hold the fort.