| Hashim Amla on way to his unbeaten 50 on Wednesday
Cape Town: The South African Breweries plant, which ferments gallons of Castle beer, is just off Newlands. It’s routine stuff, though. The Indians, of course, will have to cook up something special if they’re to push for a Test series win here.
After scoring 414, highest in bilateral face-offs in South Africa, the Indians allowed the hosts to reach 144 for one by stumps on Day II of the decider. Not out were captain Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla, who survived the axe thanks to the unwritten (but somewhat religiously followed) quota rule.
While Smith is unbeaten on 76, an innings which helped him become the second youngest (after Sachin Tendulkar) to score 4,000 Test runs, Amla is going to resume on 50. In fact, during his knock of 64, Sachin became the leading run-getter in Tests overseas.
Till Wednesday morning, that record had been Brian Lara’s. Sachin is one ahead of the West Indies captain, on 5,737.
The news was conveyed to Sachin, as he was heading for the team bus, by The Telegraph. Smiling, he reacted: “I had no idea... Well, I’m happy... I don’t, however, think runs overseas are more important as Test cricket is Test cricket, be it at home or away...”
South Africa’s priority is to avoid the follow-on — barring the mother of all collapses, they should effortlessly — but the big debate is over the composition of the Team India XI. On the opening day itself, it was evident a 2-2 attack was necessary. Debutant Paul Harris’ performance (four for 129) reinforced it.
The reality is that Harbhajan Singh is in the dressing room when, logically, he and Anil Kumble ought to have been launching a double spin assault. Given the wicket’s behaviour in recent years, Vikram Rajvir Singh’s berth should’ve gone to our first hattrick achiever in Tests.
India’s first innings ended some 44 minutes before tea. If Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik took the opening day’s honours, Sachin and Sourav took centrestage on Wednesday morning.
Sourav was the last out for 66 (159 minutes, 75 balls, 9x4, 1x6). It wasn’t as good a knock as his unbeaten 51 in the first innings at the Wanderers, but may prove as effective. He could’ve batted longer, but had to force the pace as he was left with ‘jack’ Munaf Patel.
The former captain started most inelegantly, though, struck on the helmet’s grille when he took his eyes off one pitched short from Dale Steyn. The same over, however, he got off the mark with a lovely off-drive. Trademark stuff.
In the evening, speaking exclusively, Sourav said: “The blow didn’t hurt me in any way... I only had the grille changed...” He had an unbeaten 107 (versus Kenya, 2003 World Cup) in his last appearance in Cape Town.
Having come in at vice-captain V.V.S.Laxman’s dismissal (269 for four), Sourav had Sachin for company. They picked gaps nicely and ran well to add 68 before Sachin got out to Harris as the ball landed in the rough and spun sharply.
What’s interesting is that yet another left-armer got him. Harris has joined the ranks of Ray Price, Ashley Giles and more. The consensus among aficionados is that a younger Sachin would’ve converted fifties into hundreds.
Clearly, the jury is out on that, but it’s a fact he got 63 in the first innings at Kingsmead.
Virender Sehwag, dropped to No.7, replaced Sachin. He sought to make the most of Harris’ presence and while he did get runs, fell to him as well. Sehwag’s 40 came in 50 balls.
With the tail for company, Sourav began looking for the big hits. He got one, a six off Harris, but was claimed by the wily Shaun Pollock.
The last five wickets fell for as few as 19 runs, a ‘collapse’ which allowed South Africa some breathing space.
Thus far, the cricket hasn’t been attractive. Rather, it has been competitive. That’s bound to be the trend on Day III, too. “Traditionally, the third day is best for batting... We aren’t getting too far ahead of ourselves, though,” is what senior-most pro Pollock had to say.
He added: “There’s a lot of cricket left... The ideal world would be to get as far ahead of India as possible, but... That we took five wickets for under 20 runs was, to my mind, the turning point...
“We’re pretty comfortable where we are... It’s not an easy wicket from a bowler’s perspective... Yes, there’s a bit of reverse swing and the odd ball can misbehave... Personally, I’m happy that the season is running a bit more for me... I know what I’m about... There are times when the form is good, at other times, it gets rough...”
By stumps on Thursday, we’ll know which team stands where.