| Anil Kumble celebrates the dismissal of Andrew Hall for a duck on Day I of the second Test in Durban on Tuesday. (AFP)
Durban: Ashwell Prince batted like a king driven by the urge to consolidate rather than conquer, but the Anil Kumble-struck double blow late on Day-I pushed the 29-year-old’s effort to the background. Besides, of course, forcing South Africa (0-1 down) firmly on the backfoot.
Kumble, indeed, has quickly emerged the biggest threat in the second Castle Test and is moving closer to 550 wickets.
At stumps, called prematurely (with Team India behind on the overs), South Africa were 257 for eight after being 256 for five when former captain Shaun Pollock got out attempting one shot too many off Vikram Rajvir Singh. Within minutes, Kumble’s googlies snared Andrew Hall and Andre Nel and the pressure was back on the hosts.
Earlier, the South Africans recovered from 28 for three. The first act in that exercise was scripted by Herschelle Gibbs (63) and Prince — 94 for the fourth-wicket. Then, Prince and Mark Boucher (53) added exactly 100 for the fifth.
Prince, who’d scored an impressive 97 in the second innings of the first Test, remained unbeaten on 98. He has been stand-in captain and could get the job full time if Graeme Smith’s horrendous run continues. He just isn’t able to ‘beat’ the demons in his mind and set a poor example on Tuesday.
Top-scorer Prince was let off by Sachin Tendulkar on 41 (off VRV), but nobody will grudge him the runs. Sachin, who injured his right thumb in the process, fortunately hasn’t suffered a fracture. “It’s only a bruise,” was the official word from the dressing room.
More than Prince, though, the talking point was Jacques Kallis’ absence from the line-up — he’s being treated for pain in the “mid to lower thoracic spine” — and Kingsmead’s rather friendly pace and bounce.
Came as quite a revelation.
“Yes, the wicket didn’t have pace, but the bounce was there... Conditions were tough and the bowlers put in a great effort after the toss had been lost... On a hot day, we deserved the wickets at the end just for the effort... We had it good,” remarked captain Rahul Dravid.
There were, by the way, two outstanding catches: Gibbs’ by Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Pollock’s by Virender Sehwag.
Asked if he was disappointed the South Africans got off the hook early on, Dravid replied: “No... They’ve got quality players and there would be partnerships... Zaheer Khan’s opening spell (6-3-5-2) really set it up and Sreesanth also came up with something special... VRV bowled well, without much luck... On some days, he may not bowl as well, but can get more wickets...”
Delighted to be in the driver’s seat, he added: “Batting for long periods is going to be the key for us... We’ve got to keep their bowlers out for long spells (in demanding conditions)...”
Gibbs, who came close to losing his place after a pair at the Wanderers, didn’t quite say he was relieved, but said: “I’m disappointed I didn’t push on for a hundred... Some runs are better than no runs... I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody except myself... It’s a tricky wicket and, traditionally, is best for batting on the second and third days... Today, one played and missed quite a few balls...”
Even if his demotion to No.4 rankled, he didn’t exactly acknowledge as much. “It does play on the mind if the batting position isn’t settled, but being the second senior-most batsman (after Kallis) it’s my responsibility to bat where I’m asked to... For the last couple of seasons, it has been up and down for me.”
Extending moral support to his captain, Gibbs added: “It will be great if we squeeze in around 40 runs and reach 300... Our bowlers aren’t going to let up... They wouldn’t have forgotten the day-night game here (won big by South Africa) last month.”
Speaking to The Telegraph, he accepted this had been a crucial innings, but pointed out “every innings has its importance... Despite the pressure and criticism, I was still smiling... You won’t find the smile leave my face! Fact is we haven’t been playing too much Test cricket.”
Day-II will start 16 minutes early (1.14 pm IST).