South Africa had a dramatic collapse in the last session of the opening day’s play at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The visitors from a position of absolute strength at 229 for 2 slipped to 266 for 9 in the space of around 20 overs in a dramatic final session. The Proteas wasted the centuries from Debutant Petersen and Hashim Amla. For India, Zaheer Khan looked to be the only penetrative bowler all day but towards the end, Harbhajan Singh weaved some late magic at his favourite venue.
Zaheer Khan put India on the charge in the third over itself when he castled the off stump of Graeme Smith (4) which went for a morning walk. The left armer got one to nip back sharply from outside off and by the time Smith’s frontfoot came forward and across, the ball crashed through the gate. India couldn’t find any more successes in the morning session as debutant Alviro Petersen got stuck in with the inform Hashim Amla. Petersen was solid in defence and was playing thumping pull shots off both Ishant and Zaheer. Runs came in plenty on the fast outfield and by lunch, South Africa had moved onto a handsome 116 for 1 in 26 overs with Petersen on 51 and Amla on 44.
The afternoon session saw the pair of Petersen and Amla grow stronger in their partnership. A chance was created by Harbhajan Singh in the 34th over when Amla edged a top spinner to slip but only to see VVS Laxman drop a sitter of a catch after several juggling attempts! A heartbroken Harbhajan and the rest of the Indian bowlers went flat after that. Both Petersen and Amla got past their respective centuries with ease. The right handed Petersen became the third South African to score a century on Test Debut after Andrew Hudson and Jacques Rudolph.
Just before Tea, Ishant Sharma provided some fresh life for the hosts with a barrage of rising deliveries that rattled up a well set Hashim Amla. All of a sudden the pitch seemed to be playing differently as far as the Indians were concerned and the belief that they could take wickets was back. However, it was Zaheer Khan who was rewarded with a wicket when he replaced Ishant Sharma. Zaheer getting the ball to reverse away got Alviro Petersen (100 from 164 balls with 16 fours) play a loose drive away from his body to get caught behind in the 53rd over. It was a compact knock from Alviro until then, the big right hander showed good footwork even against the two spinners. He put on 209 runs for the second wicket with Amla. South Africa was on top at Tea with a score of 228 for 2 in 56 overs.
Zaheer Khan provided India with a quick breakthrough in the fourth ball after Tea when Hashim Amla (114 from 166 balls with 14 fours and a six attempting a hook shot from outside off was caught edging the shot to Dhoni. It was a sharp catch taken behind by the Indian Captain to have SA at 229 for 3. The match really turned on its head in the 66th over when Jacques Kallis (10) went for a big slog sweep off Harbhajan Singh but only to top edge it. VVS Laxman determined to make amends for his earlier dropped catch ran backwards from slip to short fine leg to take an outstanding catch.
Harbhajan Singh with the wicket of Kallis got the much needed fillip to run through the strong South African batting. In the space of two balls, Harbhajan Singh just like England’s Graeme Swann got the ball to drift in from round the sticks to strike the pads of Ashwell Prince and JP Duminy in line of the stumps. Harbhajan found himself on a hat-trick at his favourite venue. But he fell just short of achieving a second hat-trick at the Eden Gardens when a straighter one just drifted away from the off stump of Steyn. Nevertheless the damage was done with SA slipping to 254 for 6 in 68 overs.
In the very next over, South Africa received a major jolt when AB de Villiers was run out at the non striker’s end courtesy of a magic fielding moment from Zaheer Khan at covers. AB made just 12 and was done in by a mix up with Dale Steyn. In the 71st over, Ishant Sharma got Paul Harris edging his backfoot push to Dhoni and in the 77th over, Amit Mishra got rid of Steyn with a slider. Steyn was unlucky to be given out lbw after getting an inside edge onto the pad. But all through the first and the second sessions, India was almost with zero luck with lbw appeals not going their way and the batsmen often getting away with their false shots.
South Africa had a reprieve when the Umpires decided that light wasn’t good enough to play the extra half hour which resulted in a loss of 9 overs. South Africa ended up at 266 for 9 with the capable last pair of Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel at the crease. The second new ball wasn’t taken by the Indians but they may not need it at all tomorrow morning.
The bowling heroes of the day – Zaheer had figures of 3 for 77 in 21 overs and Harbhajan had 3 for 60 in 22 overs. It was a fabulous show from the Indians in the last session as they not only picked up the wickets but also made sure that each and every run was earned. The Indian batting now holds the key if they have to put the lid on the South Africans for the rest of the Test match as the bowlers have done their job already.