| V.V.S. Laxman on way to his 73 on the third day of the first Test at the Wanderers on Sunday. (AP)
Johannesburg: That the Indians hadn’t won a Test in South Africa was, according to Rahul Dravid, a motivating factor. In the lead-up to the ongoing first match, he’d also said the lack of expectations (after the 0-4 walloping in the ODIs) wasn’t actually such a bad thing.
Well, by stumps on Sunday (Day III), the Indians were five wickets away from victory. Not that anything can be taken for granted — after all, who’d expected South Africa to be bundled out for 84 in the first innings — but even a miracle is unlikely to help the hosts.
At 163 for five, they’re still 239 short of the 402-target.
Realistically, South Africa’s only hope of not heading to Durban 0-1 in this three-Test Castle Series is for rain to rule out any play over the last two days at the Wanderers. The forecast, though, isn’t one to encourage captain Graeme Smith and coach Mickey Arthur.
“I must confess I’ve been surprised... I didn’t expect India to make such a strong start in the Tests... The bowlers deserve credit,” the iconic Barry Richards told The Telegraph.
However, selection committee chairman Dilip Vengsarkar is keeping fingers crossed. “No match is over till the last wicket has gone... I won’t react till that has happened, but I’m very happy,” he remarked.
Vengsarkar arrived some days before the Test series.
Senior-pro Shaun Pollock, who has joined the 400 wickets club, put up a brave face: “We have belief... It’s a big ask and we aren’t in the greatest of situations, but we haven’t stopped believing in ourselves...”
Surely, that alone won’t be enough.
With over two-and-half days at their disposal, the South Africans got off to the worst possible start, losing Herschelle Gibbs (who has definite problems with technique) on the fourth ball from Zaheer Khan.
Smith, who has been struggling, again fell cheaply and Hashim Amla wasn’t around for long either. Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince did a small repair job, but the former’s dismissal for no more than 27 meant even the most die-hard South African fans would have to throw in the towel.
The gifted AB De Villiers didn’t stay for long.
Kallis is accustomed to pressure, but would’ve been upset over the front-page story in a leading English publication over his staying quiet during the national anthem prior to international matches.
First innings wrecker-in-chief Sreesanth was in the thick of action in the second, too. In the morning, of course, he took a six off Andre Nel and the two engaged in an entertaining side-show. Even the serious business of Test cricket calls for some relief.
The Indians added 90 to the overnight 146 for five, thanks largely to vice-captain V.V.S. Laxman, who authored the highest score (73) in the Test and Zaheer’s 37. Even if many assumed the overall lead (311) going into Day III had been enough, the situation was one of more-the-better.
Incidentally, the maximum that South Africa have scored to win a Test is 340 for five, against Australia in Durban (2001-02).