India fight back after Klusener puts South Africa in driving seat
Three days into the first Castle Lager/MTN Test match against South Africa, India found themselves far enough off the pace to have to treat the last six sessions of the game with some suspicion. They will enter Tuesday's fourth day at 96 for one in their second innings, still some 88 runs in arrears.
They find themselves in this position despite the centuries from Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag on the first day and a five-wicket haul from Javagal Srinath and because, perhaps, they were unable to contain Lance Klusener whose fourth Test century saw South Africa into a 184-run lead on the first innings.
The point, really, is that while South Africa have still some distance to go to turn their first innings advantage into something more tangible, all the pressure over the last two days will be on India to survive. The pitch played well through the third day, although the occasional ball kept low at the Loch Logan end towards the close of play. How much this will affect the eventual outcome remains to be seen.
Klusener made 108 on Monday to end a horrible run in Test cricket. His last Test 50 was the 97 he made against Sri Lanka at Newlands in the New Year and after that he endured a dreadful tour of the West Indies and a streak of seven Tests in which he scored just 110 runs at an average of 12.2.
There was pressure on him to do something to justify his Test place - he is now very much South Africa's fifth seamer - and he couldn't have done a better job for himself. The situation was not critical when he arrived at the crease after Jacques Kallis's marathon stint between Tests dismissals finally came to an end, but South Africa still needed some work done.
When Kallis was caught at slip for 68 he had not been out in a Test for 1 241 minutes, a record he looked like extending even further until he faced the ball that dismissed him. South Africa were then 359 for four, a position which became 377 for six within a matter of overs.
Srinath bowled Boeta Dippenaar for 20 with the best delivery of the day and then claimed his 200th Test victim with his next ball as Shaun Pollock was caught of bat and pad at short leg. The innings was in the balance at that point, but Mark Boucher joined Klusener for a seventh-wicket partnership which eventually yielded 121 and the South African lead steadily mounted.
Klusener wasn't pretty, but then again he rarely is, and the longer he batted the more certain became his shot making. He had his fair share of nicks and edges and misses early on, but as he settled his timing grew more assured, and by tea time, on 95, he looked in formidable touch.
He went to his century shortly after the break, drove Anil Kumble back over his head for six and then fell to the leg-spinner a little tamely, tapping back a soft return catch. There were a few lusty thumps from Makahaya Ntini at the end of the innings before Srinath claimed his fifth wicket and India were then left to bat out the last 27 overs of the day.
They achieved this for the wicket of Rahul Dravid who failed for the second time as an opener in this Test, caught low down in the gully off Shaun Pollock for 11. Pollock conceded 12 runs off his first over - including a four from SS Das that a leaping Boucher could not hold, a really difficult missed chance but a chance neverthless - and just four off his next six overs.
He beat VVS Laxman five times in two overs outside the offstump, but the South Africans could not break through again and with Ntini getting clobbered once again, Das was able to move to 54 by the close with Laxman on 25.
India are by no means doomed to defeat, but at the moment South Africa hold the upper hand. The home side have to bat last, but at this stage you would not expect India to be able to build a target sufficiently big to worry South Africa and also have enough time to bowl out the South Africans.
Then again, another few hours of brilliance from Tendulkar could change all this, but the fact remains that India had to bowl South Africa out in the first innings largely with two bowlers, Kumble and Srinath. They might struggle to repeat this in the South African second innings.
As a postscript, the day's two heroes, Klusener and Srinath both failed to attend a press conference at the end of play. Klusener apparently went into the nets for throw downs while Srinath disappeared after granting a television interview.