Steyn and McKenzie cap South Africa's day
There was a 25th century and 10,000 Test runs for Rahul Dravid and a large crowd to celebrate, but little else went India's way at Chepauk as a rejuvenated South African side dominated the fourth day's play. Makhaya Ntini, given a pasting by Virender Sehwag on Friday, led the revival with a vastly improved spell and Dale Steyn's pace then proved far too much for the tail to handle as the Indian lead was restricted to just 87. Faced with a potentially tricky session of batting, South Africa responded with aplomb, finishing the day 44 ahead with nine wickets in hand.
Neil McKenzie fashioned another stylish half-century and Hashim Amla carried on from where he left off in the first innings, and the partnership was already worth 78 by the time stumps were drawn. It was Graeme Smith, though, who set the tone for the riposte, with a nonchalant clip off the pads off Sreesanth, and three fours in a wretched opening over from RP Singh.
The Indian pace bowlers had learnt nothing from the discipline shown by their South African counterparts in the morning and wasted the new-ball possibilities with their lack of line and length. RP was all over the place, and the few variations tried didn't work either, with McKenzie easily cover-driving a telegraphed slower ball from Sreesanth.
After eight overs of uninspired pace, Anil Kumble had had enough. Harbhajan Singh came on at one end and Sourav Ganguly at the other. It was an inspired gamble as Harbhajan struck with his ninth delivery. Bowled from round the wicket, it didn't turn much and evaded Smith's forward prod before thudding into his pad. Smith's 35 had taken just 30 balls and gave the innings the momentum it needed.
That was as good as it got for India. Kumble took Ganguly off after two tidy overs, but even spin at both ends had little effect against two men who had batted with such authority in the first innings. McKenzie twice lofted Harbhajan over mid-on for fours, and also swept with impunity, while Amla cut and drove as well as he had on days one and two. In just 18.1 overs, the deficit was wiped out, with India's lack of attacking options on a sluggish pitch painfully exposed.
Kumble switched to round the wicket, and troubled both men with the odd delivery that really took off but by stumps South Africa were once again in a position to dictate terms.
Earlier, two wickets, ten balls apart, had deflated the sizeable crowd that had braved the heat and humidity to sit in the stands. For 26 minutes, the dream had stayed alive, but then a thick outside edge ensured that Brian Lara's record score of 400 would remain intact for a while yet. Sehwag's epic finished at 319, the highest score ever by an Indian, beating the 309 he made in Multan four years ago to the day.
South Africa had taken the new ball first thing in the morning, and runs proved a lot harder to come by. Sehwag finally pulled Ntini to the midwicket boundary to surpass Chris Gayle (317) on the all-time list, but a big swish at the next ball went to McKenzie's right at first slip. His innings had spanned 304 balls and after an initial deathly silence, the crowd roared its appreciation.
The applause for Sehwag spilled over into a welcome for Sachin Tendulkar, but he lasted just five balls at a venue where he has four Test centuries, two of them against Australia. Again, Ntini was the man, angling one in to take the edge through to Jacques Kallis at second slip.
Dravid scored just three from the first 30 balls he faced in the morning but a terrific off-drive off Steyn appeared to boost his confidence. Ganguly then eased Morne Morkel through the covers to bring up the 500, and after an hour of play Smith once again turned to Paul Harris. There was no immediate impact, with Dravid cutting for four and Ganguly playing another dreamy drive through cover. A single to midwicket off Morkel then took Dravid into five figures in Tests, and he celebrated with an off-drive off Harris.
Ganguly, fortunate earlier when an inside-edge off Morkel just missed the stumps, fell for 24 with the interval in sight, as Mark Boucher took a stunning catch off the bottom edge. Dravid finished the session on 99, and the third ball after the resumption was clipped down to the long-on boundary to go past two of the biggest names on the centurions list - Greg Chappell and Vivian Richards - but he fell soon after, edging Ntini to Smith. His 111 had taken him 291 balls, but he had been the perfect foil for the rampant Sehwag.
VVS Laxman resumed after lunch with two pleasing cover-drives off Harris, but after an initial audacious reverse-sweep, Mahendra Singh Dhoni failed to settle. Both Ntini and Steyn tested him with the short ball, and it was to be his undoing. Steyn came up with one that Dhoni just about evaded while ducking, but the next squared him up comprehensively and took the glove through to Boucher.
Kumble, Harbhajan and RP were all bowled by brilliant deliveries that reverse-swung, with Steyn upping his pace as high as 148 kph. Sreesanth was then struck a painful blow just above the wrist, and South Africa's torment ended soon after when Harris, who bowled 53.1 overs, caught Laxman off his own bowling. By then, the tenor of the game had changed utterly, with the high notes of Friday's Sehwag sessions a fading memory.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo