South Africa fights back to take 44 runs lead

March 29th, 2008 - 8:46 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
By Anand Philar
Chennai, March 29 (IANS) South Africa almost buried Indian hopes of a victory as they fought back to clean up the hosts and take a 44-run lead at the end of day four of the first cricket Test here Saturday. South Africa bowled well to pack off India for 627 runs, conceding a lead of 87 runs. But they erased the deficit and were placed 131 for one in their second innings, raising the spectre of a draw.

While Virender Sehwag notched his career-best 319, Rahul Dravid completed 10,000 runs in Tests and also his 25th century.

The South Africans made light of the deficit as Indian opening bowlers S. Sreesanth and Rudra Pratap Singh failed to click. Scoring freely, Graeme Smith (35) and Neil McKenzie (59 batting) put on 53 runs in just 10 overs for the opening stand.

However, off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, replacing Sreesanth, struck in his second over, trapping Smith in front as the batsman played for a turn that was not there. Thereafter, McKenzie and Hashim Amla (35) batted comfortably until close of play.

Earlier, South Africa, after being at the receiving end Friday, made a comeback of sorts by dismissing Sehwag for 319. The mammoth total came of 304 balls (531 min, 43×4s, 5×6s).

The visitors then ran through the lower-order in quick time, with Makhaya Ntini (3-128) and Dale Steyn (4-103) bowling with pace and hostility.

Indian batsmen failed to take advantage of Sehwag’s whirlwind triple century. After starting the day at 468 for one, they lost wickets in heaps.

Ntini, with the second new ball, generated pace and bounce in the morning to have Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar (0) caught in the slips in eight deliveries to put the brakes on Indian innings.

The huge turnout that was hoping to see Sehwag break Brian Lara’s record of unbeaten 400 was disappointed as the opener, looking stiff and rather tired after his marathon effort Friday, played just one aggressive shot for a boundary, a pull off Ntini.

The very next ball he tried to make room and play Ntini on the offside, but only nicked the ball to McKenzie to be out for a career-best 319. This surpassed the 309 he had scored against Pakistan at Multan four years ago.

Following Sehwag’s early exit, the interest was centred on Dravid who completed 10,000 runs when he reached 80 and went on to score his 25th century.

Dravid became the sixth player to cross 10,000 runs in Tests in an innings that was so typical from a player known for watchful batting interspersed with aggressive stroke play.

Sourav Ganguly gave a glimpses of his old self with a few boundaries. But in trying to cut left-arm spinner Paul Harris, he nicked to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher for an unconvincing 24.

Thereafter, Dravid and Laxman played out the remaining time till lunch with India ahead by seven runs.

After lunch Dravid attempted to step up the pace but eventually fell victim to Ntini who had him edging to Jacques Kallis at slip for 111 (291b, 396min, 14 x 4).

After Dravid’s dismissal, Mahendra Singh Dhoni attempted a few unorthodox shots. He fended a short-pitched delivery from Steyn into Boucher’s gloves.

Dhoni’s exit triggered a mini collapse as Steyn picked up three wickets in eight deliveries, dismissing Anil Kumble (3), Harbhajan Singh (0) and Rudra Pratap Singh (0).

Sreesanth, at no. 11, was struck on his left forearm while taking evasive action against a short-pitched delivery of Steyn, who bowled with hostility with the second new ball. He claimed four wickets in 21 balls in the course of his eight-over spell.

Left-arm spinner Paul Harris, replacing Ntini, wrapped up Indian innings when he caught and bowled V.V.S. Laxman for 39 to pick up his third wicket.

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