One-sided contest

South Africa’s heroes... Hashim Amla with Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis (below).-PICS: K.R. DEEPAK South Africa’s heroes... Hashim Amla with Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis (below).

Like most of South Africa’s victories in India, the win in the first Test was set up by batsmen who patiently stuck to a method of playing spin they had worked assiduously on and fast-bowlers who rendered the nature of the playing surface irrelevant. By S. Ram Mahesh.

Hashim Amla and Dale Steyn, contrasting men united by the desire to continuously improve, helped South Africa outplay India by an innings and six runs in the first Test in Nagpur. Considering that M. S. Dhoni hadn’t lost a Test as captain until then and that India hadn’t tasted defeat in 14 successive Tests, it was a remarkable achievement. India moreover had lost only two Tests by an innings in 25 years at home before the Nagpur Test. South Africa, in inflicti ng the third, showed why it has earned the reputation of being an excellent touring side.

South Africa’s record in India — five wins and four defeats — is the best of all sides since the country, re-admitted to world cricket, first toured India. South Africa’s success lies in the fact that it sticks to its natural style of play, allowing for minor adjustments; unlike other sides that have visited India in the recent past, South Africa doesn’t drastically alter its strategy just because the conditions are different from what it’s used to.

India’s century-makers... Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar (below).-

Like most of their victories in India, the win in the first Test was set up by batsmen who patiently stuck to a method of playing spin they had worked assiduously on and fast-bowlers who rendered the nature of the playing surface irrelevant. Amla’s unbeaten 253 enabled South Africa make 558 for six declared before Steyn, in a display of controlled swing bowling at high pace, wrecked India with a 10-wicket match haul. Jacques Kallis’ 173 in South Africa’s first innings will go down as one of the great man’s best innings, for it wrested the match from India after the touring side was reduced to six for two on the first morning. It was Kallis who dominated the first day before Amla gently took over.

“We were clinical,” said Smith of the victory. “I think we did very well throughout the game and used our bowlers in short spells. Amla’s double century was great to watch. At No. 3 he is becoming the glue. We played with three quicks and with (Paul) Harris chipping in, we did really well. It is a credit to the team. More than anything else the energy the guys showed is great. You need to put in that kind of effort to bowl a team out like India twice in two days. From a personal perspective it has been a really tough two weeks (after the administrative upheaval that saw coach Mickey Arthur resign and the selection committee sacked). It is a credit to the maturity the players have shown. It shows how much it means for them to play for South Africa. See guys like Hashim and Jacques... it means so much to them. It was a great team effort.”

India had a forewarning of how the Test might shape when Rohit Sharma, set to replace an injured V. V. S. Laxman, hurt his ankle during warm-up. India was forced to debut reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha in a middle-order that included fellow debutant S. Badrinath and three-Test-old M. Vijay. India’s bowling effort was hurt by the inability to find reverse swing. The incisiveness of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, usually so adept at getting the old ball to swing with the shine, was thus reduced. Harbhajan Singh had a woeful Test, hardly bowling like a man with nearly 350 Test wickets, and with Amit Mishra both desperately unfortunate and maddeningly inconsistent, India appeared resigned to its fate in the field. In their turn to bat, the Indians were confronted with Steyn and Morne Morkel, who both bowled magnificent first spells. Morkel removed Gautam Gambhir, who has been such a big part of India’s recent success, before Steyn dismissed M. Vijay and Sachin Tendulkar by setting them up splendidly. Vijay shouldered arms to an in-swinger that was pitched roughly where the previous delivery, an out-swinger, had landed. Tendulkar, after driving one out-swinger for four, got another one that moved away, but off a shorter length. As a result, his feet didn’t carry him to the position needed to counter the movement.

The highlight of India’s 233 was Virender Sehwag’s brilliant century. He showed greater restraint than is his wont, but at the same time didn’t squander opportunities to score. The battle between Steyn’s swing and Sehwag’s driving was riveting, for the batsman proved again that footwork isn’t everything. Sehwag received dogged support from Badrinath, who after an anxious start batted with character. But their 136-run stand was India’s only partnership of substance. Sehwag was caught in the deep after a mishit off left-armer Wayne Parnell, Dhoni was caught at slip after a ball from left-arm spinner Paul Harris climbed from the rough, and the bottom-half was cleaned up by Steyn’s rapid, reverse-swung in-duckers. Interestingly Steyn found reverse swing after the ball was changed; while the previous one did little through the air (much like when India bowled) the replacement ball started hopping straightaway.

Sachin Tendulkar’s 46th Test century — his first against South Africa at home — kept India in the game in the second innings. But Harris bowled him off pad and arm from left-arm over to all but settle the contest. The spinner bowled a majority of South Africa’s overs in the second innings, frustrating India’s batsmen with his stifling line and allowing South Africa’s seamers to rest. India’s lower order resisted for a while before Steyn returned to end matters. “We were outplayed in all departments,” conceded Dhoni. “We were blown away by Steyn. He was getting the ball to go away and from the same spot he was getting it to go in, which made it very difficult to play him. He bowled very good channels when he got the ball to reverse swing. For me his spell with the new ball was the best spell of conventional swing in the last 12 months.”

THE SCORES

First Test, Nagpur, February 6-9, 2010. South Africa won by an innings and six runs.

South Africa — 1st innings: G. Smith b Zaheer 6; A. Prince c Dhoni b Zaheer 0; H. Amla (not out) 253; J. Kallis c Vijay b Harbhajan 173; A. B. de Villiers c Badrinath b Sehwag 53; J. P. Duminy lbw b Harbhajan 9; M. Boucher c Mishra b Zaheer 39; D. Steyn (not out) 0; Extras (b-8, lb-8, nb-9) 25. Total (for six wkts., decl.): 558.

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-6, 3-346, 4-454, 5-476, 6-554.

India bowling: Zaheer 31-7-96-3; Ishant 28-4-85-0; Harbhajan 46-1-166-2; Mishra 53-5-140-0; Sehwag 18-1-55-1.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir c Boucher b Morkel 12; V. Sehwag c Duminy b Parnell 109; M. Vijay b Steyn 4; S. Tendulkar c Boucher b Steyn 7; S. Badrinath c Prince b Steyn 56; M. Dhoni c Kallis b Harris 6; W. Saha b Steyn 0; Harbhajan lbw b Steyn 8; Zaheer b Steyn 2; A. Mishra b Steyn 0; Ishant (not out) 0; Extras (b-14, lb-6, nb-4, w-5) 29. Total: 233.

Fall of wickets: 1-31, 2-40, 3-56, 4-192, 5-221, 6-221, 7-222, 8-226, 9-228.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 16.4-6-51-7; Morkel 15-4-58-1; Harris 17-2-39-1; Parnell 7-1-31-1; Kallis 6-0-14-0; Duminy 3-0-20-0.

India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir b Morkel 1; V. Sehwag c Smith b Steyn 16; M. Vijay c Morkel b Harris 32; S. Tendulkar b Harris 100; S. Badrinath c Boucher b Parnell 6; M. Dhoni c de Villiers b Harris 25; W. Saha lbw b Steyn 36; Harbhajan lbw b Parnell 39; Zaheer c Harris b Kallis 33; A. Mishra b Steyn 0; Ishant (not out) 0; Extras (b-15, lb-8, nb-2, w-6) 31. Total: 319.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-24, 3-96, 4-122, 5-192, 6-209, 7-259, 8-318, 9-318.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 18.1-1-57-3; Morkel 21-6-65-1; Parnell 13-2-58-2; Harris 38-17-76-3; Kallis 12-3-19-1; Duminy 5-0-21-0.