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Steyn has India hopping and jumping again

S. Ram Mahesh

In challenging conditions at Kingsmead, India's top-order comes a cropper

DURBAN: M.S. Dhoni's 12th lost toss of the year (in 13 attempts!) forced on India's batsmen the opportunity to address the ills of the first day of the series.

Although they turned in a better display in the second Test here at Kingsmead, in circumstances that were just as challenging, they largely flattered to deceive. To be fair, the nature of the wicket (green, damp) and the ambient conditions (overcast, milky-white skies) meant no batsman felt ‘in'.

But they didn't exploit a South African bowling attack that was less efficient than the first innings of the first Test. India slumped to 183 for six in 56 overs before fading light ended play. Dale Steyn, the lone standout bowler, claimed four wickets.

The first over seemed to set the tone: Virender Sehwag, taking first strike, walked away, wringing his bottom hand, after the first ball of the match, from Steyn, jumped off a dark spot and struck it. Later in the over, one delivery made as if to move into the right-hander only to leave him off the seam and travel over the exposed stumps.

Wry smile

A wry smile escaped Sehwag the next over when Morne Morkel cut him in half. Enough of this, he seemed to say, and in Morkel's next over, the fourth of the innings, he struck one straight and another over cover to get things rolling.

Sehwag then punched Lonwabo Tsotsobe through cover-point before back-cutting the left-armer for another four.

M. Vijay, in for Gautam Gambhir who sat the match out with an injured left hand, had a strange time of it in his hour-long stay. He played the rising ball well; the full ball that moved was another matter.

After being dropped on 3 at first slip off Steyn, he began to leave deliveries with excellent judgment; he also got a boundary when his judgment faltered and he couldn't withdraw his bat in time.

But just as it seemed that India was having the luck it needed to survive in conditions such as these, Steyn struck. A magnificent out-swinger it was, angling into Sehwag before rebelling off-course late.

It committed Sehwag to the drive, eluded the bat's middle, and took the edge, travelling chest-high to second slip. Such was the quality of the delivery that it made it seem that Sehwag had given it away.

Vijay departs

Vijay followed, trapped on the crease by another wickedly curling Steyn out-swinger to be caught behind.

Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar took India to lunch at 74 for two from 19 overs, the latter attacking Morkel before the break, collecting three fours, two from thrilling flashes over the slips and one from a top-edged hook.

Tendulkar fell in the over after lunch, chasing a wide delivery slanted across him by Tsotsobe from left-arm over. But V.V.S. Laxman, who joined Dravid, played with beautiful touch, even as batting got marginally easier.

Two pulls, one off Tsotsobe for four and another off Steyn for six, were arresting strokes.

Dravid — who, in between push-driving splendidly, played and missed, bat flicking out like a switchblade — left after gloving a ball that both lifted and left him, off a length.

Bizarre end

Laxman's innings ended in slightly bizarre fashion, a pull off Steyn intercepted at mid-on by Tsotsobe, who moved late and suddenly, and stuck out his right hand.

Cheteshwar Pujara batted with greater composure than the man he replaced, Suresh Raina, leaving the ball well, even playing a marvellous upper-cut off Morkel.

But he was late on the hook and pull-strokes. The first top-edge, off Morkel, went for four, but the second, off Tsotsobe, steepled high.

Mark Boucher back-pedalled, and despite knocking over a protective helmet with one step and scattering a heap of sawdust with the second, took his third catch.

M.S. Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh counter-attacked whenever the opportunity presented itself, both playing bold strokes for valuable runs.

India — 1st innings: V. Sehwag c Kallis b Steyn 25 (32b, 4x4), M. Vijay c Boucher b Steyn 19 (42b, 2x4), R. Dravid c Boucher b Steyn 25 (68b, 3x4), S. Tendulkar c Kallis b Tsotsobe 13 (22b, 3x4), V.V.S. Laxman c Tsotsobe b Steyn 38 (73b, 4x4, 1x6), C. Pujara c Boucher b Tsotsobe 19 (45b, 3x4), M.S. Dhoni (batting) 20 (31b, 2x4), Harbhajan (batting) 15 (25b, 2x4); Extras (b-1, lb-2, nb-2, w-4): 9. Total (for six wickets in 56 overs): 183.

Fall of wickets: 1-43 (Sehwag), 2-48 (Vijay), 3-79 (Tendulkar), 4-117 (Dravid), 5-130 (Laxman), 6-156 (Pujara).

South Africa bowling: Steyn 14-3-36-4, Morkel 15-2-60-0, Tsotsobe 11-3-40-2, Kallis 8-2-18-1, Harris 8-1-26-0 .

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