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Cautious start by India on a rain-hit day

S. Dinakar

Dravid, Tendulkar make vital knocks; opening batsmen fail to get going


  • Kallis takes two wickets
  • Pollock bowls with precision

    Johannesburg: If cricket is not about numbers, then Rahul Dravid made a bold statement to his men at the Wanderers on a truncated Friday of sunshine, clouds and delays — nothing is ever given away easily in international cricket.

    And Jacques Kallis showed that it sometimes took a man who comprehended the nuances of batting to get it dead right with the ball.

    The formidable all-rounder bowled the perfect length, drawing both Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid forward, and then finding the edge with deliveries that moved away.

    At the end of day one in the first Test of the Castle series, India was 156 for five. South Africa had the edge, but the Test was still intriguingly poised.

    Makhaya Ntini struck a body blow for South Africa in the closing moments when he got the fluent V.V.S. Laxman (28, 67b, 5x4) to nick a delivery, delivered from wide off the crease, that straightened after pitching.

    Comeback Sourav Ganguly is batting on a determined 14. Laxman and Ganguly put on 46 for the fifth wicket in 91 balls.

    Ganguly was greeted by a vicious short-pitched flier from Nel, but kept his eyes on the ball and swayed away from the line. He was composed in the middle.

    Dravid, walking in at No. 3, made only 32, but faced 83 balls with a finger that is still not completely healed. It was astonishing that someone who had last played a competitive match on November 26 could take on a combative bunch of pacemen so correctly.

    Dravid got behind the line unflinchingly, and showed impeccable judgment around the off-stump. On a surface of inconsistent bounce, he was also struck by a sickening blow on his ribs by a Shaun Pollock delivery that climbed off a length. On other occasions, he rose on his toes to keep the searing short-pitched deliveries down.

    Balanced

    Tendulkar (44, 89b, 7x4) batted beautifully. His driving through the covers off the pacemen was exquisite. The maestro's balance was perfect in defence and offence. This was a day when his body and mind were in harmony. It was a pity that Tendulkar did not make more than 44 (89b, 7x4) on an afternoon when he was timing the ball so well. He was also enjoying his batting and the challenge of the occasion.

    When Ntini pitched short, he, audaciously, directed the ball over the slips. Tendulkar promises more in the days ahead.

    After the openers departed, Dravid and Tendulkar added 69 in 24.5 overs — the highest third wicket stand for India against South Africa in Tests.

    It was a matter of concern for South Africa when paceman Dale Steyn left the field with a muscle strain (left quadriceps).

    Bizarre start

    Earlier, the Test series was off to a bizarre beginning, with the match starting 90 minutes late due to some wet areas on the pitch.

    Host association Gauteng Cricket Board said curator Chris Scott, concerned about the cracks on the pitch widening by the third or fourth day due to the intense heat, had applied wet hessian on the track and then covered it. This, combined with the sweating under the covers, left some portions of the pitch moist.

    India finally had some luck with the toss. It was also logical that Rahul Dravid would opt to bat. India had picked Anil Kumble as the lone spinner, but then, the ace leggie could be deadly if the cracks opened up further.

    South Africa began with Steyn and Mkhaya Ntini. Steyn was quick, but did not make the batsmen play enough. Ntini was handled with circumspection by Wasim Jaffer and an unusually quiet Virender Sehwag. This was not the fastest of wickets but it was double-paced.

    Ntini also dug in short with a short-leg in place. Sehwag fended a rising delivery just out of reach of the waiting fielder. Jaffer did slightly better — he pulled Ntini past the ropes.

    The opening partnership was just developing into a meaningful one, when Jaffer missed a delivery angling into him from Ntini. The batsman was trapped in front. The opener played outside the line and this was, perhaps, caused by the fact that Ntini can, now, get the ball to straighten or move away slightly from the right-hander.

    Then, Pollock, introduced as first change, struck with his laser guided precision. Sehwag, finally lured out of his self-imposed shell, poked and edged, without moving his feet, a delivery leaving him. His struggle with the willow continues.

    The match will start at 1.30 p.m. IST on Saturday.

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