Centurion: Indias vulnerability against short-pitched bowling was exposed as South Africa speedsters Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel exploited seaming conditions to leave the visitors in tatters on a rain-hit opening day of the first Test, here on Thursday.
Put into bat after a four-hour rain delay, India were left gasping at a precarious 136 for nine when stumps were drawn, with Steyn (3/34) and Morkel (4/20) ripping through their famed batting line-up.
Steyn and Morkel hurled down a barrage of bouncers, extracting pace and movement on a Supersport Park pitch which appeared to have lots of moisture due to overnight and early morning rain. And the tinge of green made matters worse for the Indians.
At the close of play, captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was batting on 33, while debutant Jaydev Unadkat was giving him company on one.
Sachin Tendulkar, who is just one short of his 50th Test century, was the top scorer of the day with a sparkling 34-ball 36, which included eight fours.
He was batting without any apparent trouble before being dismissed soon after a delayed tea break.
Rahul Dravid was the only other specialist batsman who reached double digits with a 42-ball 14 with the help of two fours. While Gautam Gambhir (5) struggled throughout his 43-ball stay, his opening partner Virender Sehwag was out for a duck.
VVS Laxman scored just seven from 20 balls and Suresh Raina could contribute just one run after facing three balls.
India were saved from complete disaster by a 39-run partnership off 45 balls between Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh for the seventh wicket.
Harbhajan, who hit back-to-back centuries in the series against New Zealand, was looking to play another crucial knock down the order whacking a six and a four off paceman Lonwabo Tsotsobe, which prompted a brief exchange of words between the two. However, the offie could just make a 25-ball 27 before being dismissed in a bizzare fashion.
Harbhajan was slow to turn for the second run after Dhoni pushed through cover, but he had almost made it before his bat fell from his hand just inches from the crease. Mark Boucher removed the stumps to put an end to Harbhajans entertaining innings.
The much-talked about duel between Sehwag and Steyn lasted just three balls. Sehwag fell when his slash at a wide ball off Steyn was lapped up by Hashim Amla at third man.
Morkel, who extracted fiery pace and bounce throughout the session, kept the pressure on Gautam Gambhir with his short pitch stuff. He finally got Gambhir when the left-handed batsman edged a length delivery to Ryan Harris at the first slip.
Dravid fell soon after Gambhirs departure, trapped plumb in front off a ball which jagged in from the off stump. When Dravid departed, India were in deep trouble at 27 for three.
Before falling for 14, Dravid overtook former West Indian captain Brain Lara as the third highest run-getter in Tests — behind Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting — when he reached 11.
Coming into the match needing 11 runs to surpass Laras 11,953, Dravid reached the milestone with a double.
Steyn made matters worse for the visitors, picking up two wickets in two overs, including that of increasingly confident Tendulkar.
Steyn first knocked off Laxmans middle stump and then trapped Tendulkar plumb in front.
Morkel believes that South Africas first day show will send a strong message to the Indian camp for the three-match series.
We caused some serious damage. We dealt the first blow, the first punch after winning the toss. It sends a good message that our bowling unit are ready for the test, said Morkel.
Speaking on his new-ball partner Steyn, Morkel said: We have been bowling together for some time and so there was a bit of pressure on us to deliver. The main thing was not to get carried away as the game can change very quickly, he said.
Steyn, meanwhile, said that it was a pleasure to grab Sehwag's wicket early. When Sehwag hit the ball I thought it must have gone for a four but it landed at third man… We know Sehwag can be dangerous and so it was satisfying to dismiss him early. A couple of wickets upfront set up the tempo for us today (Thursday),Steyn said.
india-sa Day I highlights
India are playing their first ever Test match at Centurion Park. India were the only Test side not to have played any Tests at this ground (However, unofficially, India had played a Test at this ground in November 2001).
India have now lost 13 tosses out of their last 14 Test matches, beginning from the Brabourne Stadium Test in Mumbai on December 2, 2009.
Jaydev Unadkat (Test player No. 267) became the third player to appear in Tests while playing for Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy. The others were KS Indrajitsinhji (1964-69) and Cheteshwar Pujara (2010).
Unadkat became the youngest Indian to make his debut against South Africa.
Rahul Dravid, on 11, overtook the aggregate of 11953 runs of West Indian Brian Lara. Dravid with 11957 runs, is now the third highest run-getter behind Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting.
Tendulkar has now appeared in 59 different Test grounds. He extends his own record by appearing in most Test venues than any other cricketer in Test history.