The host gets to work in right earnest

The victorious South African team.-

Over five days that it started dominating only from the second day, South Africa never relinquished the advantages it gained and relentlessly blunted a young Indian side and emerged as a deserving victor, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

The days leading up to the second Test at Durban (Dec. 26 to 30) were all about savouring the hangover bequeathed by an incredible first Test that threw up one of the finest draws ever in cricketing history. South Africa was tested, India was a touch upbeat and the rivals could draw their own inferences from the first tussle.

And then on match-eve, a Christmas day at that, Cricket South Africa issued a press-release that spelt out Jacques Kallis’ decision to retire after the Durban game! The context was ripped off its past glories and soon it was all about reconciling with a sobering truth — another icon was bowing out.

Amidst this conflicting medley of a legend’s last days as a Test cricketer and the need to get on with the game, was born a match that cut through the history and the emotion and delivered a sobering truth: South Africa is the number one team and it deserves that accolade.

Over five days that it started dominating only from the second day, South Africa never relinquished the advantages it gained and relentlessly blunted a young Indian side and emerged as a deserving victor, an overwhelming one at that thanks to a 10-wicket triumph and with that pocketed the series 1-0.

In case you didn’t know, Kallis was still at the centre-stage, his 115 in the South African first innings, as much an innings that reflected his solidity as it did his desire to always fit into the team’s cause. That has been his enduring motto and it gifted the cricketing world, one of its finest all-rounders, a batsman for the ages, a never-say-die bowler and a safe fielder with bucket-hands at slips so much so that Shaun Pollock said: “Now you need to find two players (to replace Kallis)!”

India started well and the good work seemed to spill over from Johannesburg. On a rain-marred opening day, opener Murali Vijay (97) and Cheteshwar Pujara (70) played remarkably well. Vijay’s cover drives were essayed after much thought and reluctance. But they were of the highest class. Pujara was patience personified.

The clash changed hands as far as its ownership was concerned on the second day and it all boiled down to Man of the Match Dale Steyn (six for 100). The South African spearhead had drawn considerable flak for his off-key performance in the first Test and he was keen to make amends. He dismissed Vijay, Pujara and Rohit Sharma, who was castled shouldering arms. Despite Virat Kohli (46) and Ajinkya Rahane (51 not out) trying their best to cope, India finished with only 334.

South Africa had lost its last four Tests at Durban’s Kingsmead Stadium and that was a history that needed serious course correction.

The Proteas got down to doing precisely that and except for Hashim Amla, who got castled again, the other batsmen rallied together starting from the top to all the way down with even Steyn playing a vital part. All of them including an ebullient Man of the Series A. B. de Villiers (74), who earlier plucked catches out of thin air, and Robin Peterson (61) found in Kallis, the right foundation to build on.

Dale Steyn was at his fiery best in the first innings, bagging six wickets. Here he has just scalped Murali Vijay with the batsman on 97.-

The veteran’s 45th Test ton was the brick-and-mortar that held the South African first innings together and helped the host to finish at 500 with a 166-run lead in its kitty. For India, the lone cheer was triggered by the six wickets that left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja claimed.

It was time again for Graeme Smith’s men to drive home the nails and they did that emphatically in India’s second innings. Steyn was again at his menacing best and though luck aided him when the umpire upheld his appeal for a caught-behind against Kohli when the ball had brushed only the latter’s shoulder, the remaining wickets that he bagged were sheer reward for his genius.

Aiding Steyn was left-arm spinner Peterson, who gained some wickets as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Jadeja played poor shots, but also revealed a mean quotient while unleashing a carom-ball on a dogged Zaheer Khan.

India, however, drew succour from Rahane’s brilliant 96, a defensive knock that acquired a counter- attacking garb while another Mumbaikar, Rohit Sharma, flattered to deceive. India mustered 223 and the Proteas totted up the winning 59 runs without losing a wicket.

A comprehensive victory was etched and both South Africa and Kallis could not have asked for more. India, meanwhile, will look at a journey that could have ended better, but for a few glitches that tend to affect most teams in transition.

* * * THE SCORES

India — 1st innings: Shikhar Dhawan c Alviro Petersen b Morkel 29, Murali Vijay c de Villiers b Steyn 97, Cheteshwar Pujara c de Villiers b Steyn 70, Virat Kohli c de Villiers b Morkel 46, Rohit Sharma b Steyn 0, Ajinkya Rahane (not out) 51, Mahendra Dhoni c Smith b Steyn 24, Ravindra Jadeja c Kallis b Duminy 0, Zaheer Khan c de Villiers b Steyn 0, Ishant Sharma c de Villiers b Steyn 4, Mohammad Shami c Smith b Morkel 1. Extras (lb-7, w-4, nb-1): 12. Total: 334.

Fall of wickets: 1-41, 2-198, 3-199, 4-199, 5-265, 6-320, 7-321, 8-322, 9-330.

South Africa bowling: Dale Steyn 30-9-100-6, Vernon Philander 21-6-56-0, Morne Morkel 23.3-6-50-3, Jacques Kallis 11-1-36-0, Robin Peterson 22-2-75-0, Jean-Paul Duminy 4-0-10-1.

South Africa — 1st innings: Graeme Smith c Dhawan b Jadeja 47, Alviro Petersen c Vijay b Jadeja 62, Hashim Amla b Shami 3, Jacques Kallis c Dhoni b Jadeja 115, A. B. de Villiers c Kohli b Jadeja 74, J. P. Duminy lbw b Jadeja 28, Dale Steyn c Dhoni b Zaheer 44, Faf du Plessis (run out) 43, Robin Peterson c Vijay b Zaheer 61, Vernon Philander (not out) 0, Morne Morkel c & b Jadeja 0. Extras (b-3, lb-15, w-2, nb-3): 23. Total: 500.

Fall of wickets: 1-103, 2-113, 3-113, 4-240, 5-298, 6-384, 7-387, 8-497, 9-500.

India bowling: Zaheer Khan 28-4-97-2, Mohammad Shami 27-2-104-1, Ishant Sharma 31-7-114-0, Ravindra Jadeja 58.2-15-138-6, Rohit Sharma 11-1-29-0.

India — 2nd innings: Shikhar Dhawan c du Plessis b Peterson 19, Murali Vijay c Smith b Philander 6, Cheteshwar Pujara b Steyn 32, Virat Kohli c de Villiers b Steyn 11, Rohit Sharma lbw b Philander 25, Ajinkya Rahane b Philander 96, M. S. Dhoni c Alviro Petersen b Peterson 15, Ravindra Jadeja c Morkel b Peterson 8, Zaheer Khan lbw b Peterson 3, Ishant Sharma c de Villiers b Steyn 1, Mohammad Shami (not out) 1, Extras (b-4, w-2): 6. Total: 223.

Fall of wickets: 1-8, 2-53, 3-68, 4-71, 5-104, 6-146, 7-154, 8-189, 9-206.

South Africa bowling: Dale Steyn 21-8-47-3, Vernon Philander 16-4-43-3, Morne Morkel 16-6-34-0, Robin Peterson 24-3-74-4, Jean Paul Duminy 8-2-20-0, Faf du Plessis 1-0-1-0.

South Africa — 2nd innings: Graeme Smith (not out) 27, Alviro Petersen (not out) 31. Extras (w-1): 1. Total (for no wkt.): 59.

India bowling: Mohammad Shami 2-1-4-0, Ishant Sharma 5-1-29-0, Ravindra Jadeja 4-0-16-0, Rohit Sharma 0.4-0-11-0.