South African batsmen take Day One honours

March 26th, 2008 - 7:23 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Harbhajan Singh
(Match Report)
By Anand Philar
Chennai, March 26 (IANS): Harbhajan Singh and skipper Anil Kumble took two wickets apiece to put India back into the match as South Africa, after a solid start, stumbled to 304 for four at stumps on the first day of the first cricket Test here Wednesday. Winning the toss and opting to bat first, South Africa were provided a fine start by skipper Graeme Smith (73) and Neil McKenzie (94) who put on 132 runs. Later, Hashim Amla weighed in with an unbeaten 85.

On a placid pitch that offered little assistance to bowlers and demanded patience, India stuck to their task with diligence to force their way back into contention after being on the defensive for two of the three sessions.

Off-spinner Harbhajan, in the course of a 16-over spell, picked up two wickets as did Kumble who bowled in three spells while new ball bowlers Rudra Pratap Singh and Sreesanth put in honest efforts though these proved far from sufficient.

After India went wicketless in the first session, Kumble dismissed Smith and then Harbhajan forced the door open by removing McKenzie and the dangerous Jacques Kallis (13). Kumble followed up with a brilliant return catch to send back Ashwell Prince (23).

McKenzie was the most impressive of the visiting batsmen. He bristled with aggression and came up with some pleasing shots in front of the wicket, but was unlucky to fall short of a deserved century.

Smith, on the other hand, was circumspect to begin with, but after settling down, opened up and even took three boundaries off a Sreesanth over. But his vigil ended just when he looked to get on top, mistiming a drive off Kumble and the ball landing in the hands of short mid-on fielder V.V.S. Laxman after putting on 132 with McKenzie.

On Smith’s exit, McKenzie prospered and along with Amla, batted sensibly to heap more misery on the home bowlers. However, shortly before tea, Harbhajan dismissed McKenzie by having him caught in slips by Dravid for 94 (18×4s).

Amla was at his watchful best on the day and bided his time for the lose ball to put away. Not the most flamboyant of batsmen, Amla underlined his utility by showing a willingness to graft for runs in the face of restrictive bowling and was unbeaten on 85 (10×4s).

Kallis and Prince barely made their presence felt as Kumble and Harbhajan had them in a bind before getting the better of them with some clever variations in pace and length.

The first session belonged to South Africa who went to lunch at 109 for no loss. McKenzie was the more aggressive, playing some spanking shots through covers and a particularly severe pull to midwicket off R.P. Singh.

Smith survived some anxious moments, especially against Sreesanth who generated a fair bit of pace and movement off the seam as he exploited the natural angle across the left-handed batsman.

Sreesanth looked the most impressive of the five Indian bowlers, as he bowled with typical aggression, testing the batsmen with short pitched deliveries.

R.P. Singh bowled well within himself, but did not appear as menacing as Sreesanth and came in for a bit of stick from McKenzie.

Past the hour, Kumble brought himself on for R.P. Singh, but did not make much impression on the two well-set batsmen. Later, Harbhajan too looked rather innocuous with the pitch playing easy.

McKenzie got to his 14th Test half-century and second against India with 11 boundaries as the 100-run partnership came in the 24th over with Smith driving Harbhajan to the straight boundary. In the final over before lunch, Smith reached his 21st Test half-century to end a profitable session for his team.

India, as expected, omitted Yuvraj Singh, Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla while South Africa picked Paul Harris as the lone specialist spinner.

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