India off to a rousing start facing South Africa’s 540

March 27th, 2008 - 8:08 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
By Anand Philar
Chennai, March 27 (IANS) Despite a fitting reply by India, South Africa, thanks to a gritty century from Hashim Amla, have a stranglehold on the first cricket Test at the end of second day’s play here Thursday. After dismissing South Africa for 540 in the first innings after tea, India responded with 82 without loss off just 21 overs with Virender Sehwag (52) and Wasim Jaffer (25) getting off to a rollicking stand.

The two openers tackled the pace and hostility of South African quicks Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel with a bit of dash while comfortably handling the spin of left-arm Paul Harris to keep India in the hunt.

Sehwag showed the way by upper-cutting Ntini high over the slips for a six, a stroke that Jaffer also played in the next over. After the initial flurry of strokes, the two openers settled down to play sensibly.

Sehwag raced to his 14th Test half-century off 59 deliveries with a punch through covers off Steyn in the last over of the day and looked well set for a long innings, something that India need going into the crucial third day on the morrow.

There was little relief for India in the first two sessions during which they picked up only two wickets as the South Africans continued to make merry.

The South African progress today was more about grinding the Indian bowling to dust rather than taking charge and this approach marked the manner in which their batsmen went about their task.

Hashim Amla expectedly achieved his fourth Test hundred and eventually made 159 before getting run out while Abraham Benjamin de Villiers (44) and Mark Boucher (70) put South Africa in total control.

India’s best moments of the match so far came in the post-tea period when Harbhajan Singh (5/164) picked up three wickets in an 11-over spell as South Africa collapsed to 540. With the tail-enders using the long handle, the off-spinner came away with five for 164.

Sehwag triggered the collapse when he got rid of Boucher by having him caught in the slips thus exposing the South African tail for Harbhajan to wrap up.

Earlier, it was yet another day of toil as Indian bowling was reduced to helplessness on a pitch that continued to play flat, offering no assistance to the bowlers.

As the temperature soared and the sun beat down mercilessly, the Indian resistance further weakened, leaving the South African batsmen to make merry.

The only solace for India in the first two sessions was the two wickets that they pouched, those of de Villiers and Amla, but by then, the visitors were well on their way to a massive first innings total.

South Africa, 304 for four overnight, added exactly 100 runs in the first session for the loss of de Villiers who snicked S Sreesanth, bowling with the second new ball, to wicket-keeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

De Villiers, after ignoring Sreesanth’s provocative behaviour of eye-balling and constant chatter, fell when in sight of a half-century, but after adding 99 runs for the fifth wicket with Amla.

It was a small victory for Sreesanth who earlier was punished for three consecutive boundaries by Amla en route to his century. Amla, though not the most flamboyant of batsmen, played a steady hand as he guided South Africa’s progress.

Amla finally departed following a mix-up with Boucher who played Kumble to Sreesanth at covers and set off for a non-existent run. Sreesanth threw the ball to the wrong end, but Dhoni quickly relayed to Kumble to knock the bails off.

Kumble did shuffle his bowling around, but it hardly made a difference. Worse still, the Indian fielding noticeably flagged and as the day wore on, their body language was one of wait-and-watch rather than of enthusiasm.

Harbhajan, who began the proceedings from the Walajah Road end, nearly had Amla whose edge fell just short of lone slip Rahul Dravid. A couple of streaky shots followed, but after Kumble opted for second new ball, the South Africans batted freely.

Amla got to his first century against India, moving from 91 to 103, off 173 deliveries (14×4).

It was not long before the double-spin attack came into play with Kumble and Harbhajan in charge, but Amla and Boucher survived to strike it rich.

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