Sehwag shines on a sluggish pitch
India 401 for 4 (Sehwag 164, Gambhir 96, Ganguly 57, Dravid 52*) trail South Africa 510 for 9 dec by 109 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The bowlers continued to toil with little reward on a placid Green Park track at Kanpur. South Africa had the satisfaction of restricting the runs, but they managed just four wickets as India - despite Virender Sehwag's electrifying 164 - scored only 216 in the 72 overs bowled in the day. With one day to go, and India's first innings still some way from completion, a boring draw, and an avoidable last day, was in prospect.
While only four batsmen were dismissed in the day, the contest between bat and ball was far more even than yesterday - except for a brief period in the afternoon when Sehwag launched an astonishing assault - largely because of South Africa's greater discipline in the field. Their bowling was more accurate, and, crucially, all their seamers extracted reverse-swing in varying degrees, which prevented most of the batsmen from hitting through the line of the ball. Gautam Gambhir was an early victim of the seam and swing, while Rahul Dravid (52 not out) and Sourav Ganguly (57) had to exercise plenty of caution early on, and it was only when the second new ball was taken that both became more comfortable.
One batsman, however, was completely unperturbed by the sideways movement. Sehwag had been in fairly watchful mode yesterday, and started off in similar fashion today, but in a 40-minute period immediately after lunch he launched into a blistering attack on the South African bowlers, adding 56 off a mere 35 balls. Sehwag's technique was simple: he stayed still, with feet on leg stump, as the ball was delivered. That allowed him the room to execute the strokes to incoming deliveries. If the ball went the other way, Sehwag still trusted his hand-eye co-ordination to do the job. Andrew Hall was tonked for an audacious six over long-on, while anything pitched up around off was belted over or through the off-side cordon. And against Robin Peterson's completely innocuous slow stuff - it wasn't spin, since he hardly turned the ball at all - Sehwag was utterly disdainful, reverse-sweeping, driving inside-out through the off side, or lofting boundaries to leg almost at will.
In eight overs after lunch, India piled on 59, during which period Sehwag passed 1000 runs for the calendar year. Then, a dubious decision by Simon Taufel ended it all. Hall got one to swing in prodigiously, and hit Sehwag on the pad in front of leg stump. The ball seemed to be drifting down leg, but Taufel thought otherwise, ending a gloriously entertaining innings (294 for 2).
With Sehwag gone, normal service resumed. Sachin Tendulkar struggled to cope with the low bounce, and was bowled off his pads for 3 by another Hall inswinger, while Dravid and Ganguly struggled to get the ball off the square. Dravid was particularly bogged down. Unlike Sehwag, Dravid shuffled across his stumps, which often got him into a tangle with the indippers. Probably mindful of his dismissals in the series against Australia, even half-volleys were patted back with exaggerated caution.
The second new ball, taken immediately after tea, eased his misery somewhat, as it came onto the bat quicker, and without that late movement. Ganguly prospered too, executing some delectable drives through the off side en route to his half-century. He finally became Zander de Bruyn's first Test victim, miscuing a pull to Peterson at fine leg (394 for 4), but Dravid continued with his painstaking effort, and had faced 169 deliveries by close of play, which, again, was brought forward by almost an hour by poor light.
Earlier, Gambhir missed out on his maiden Test hundred, edging Shaun Pollock to the wicketkeeper when just four short. Gambhir had hammered 85 off just 114 on the third day, but, with a century in sight, he was understandably cautious. The bow;ers kept an excellent line to him as well, and the persistence finally paid off, ending a first-wicket stand of 218. Sehwag briefly seemed set to take the game away from the South Africans, but his unfortunate dismissal made it a good day for the visitors.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.