India v South Africa, 1st Test, Chennai, 5th day March 30, 2008

Chennai offers perfect warm-up for visitors

South Africa didn't get a practice game prior to this series but they would have been pleasantly surprised with the generosity granted to them at the MA Chidambaram Stadium


Graeme Smith was pleased with the way his team sprung back on the fourth day with both bat and ball © Getty Images
 

South Africa didn't get a practice game prior to this series but they would have been pleasantly surprised with the generosity granted to them at the MA Chidambaram Stadium. The surface provided was like the one you would expect in a warm-up game, and they leave for Ahmedabad with all their batsmen getting plenty of time in the middle. Win toss, bat first, pile on a big score and give your bowlers a good workout - South Africa got all the ingredients that's part of a lead-up match.

Even as early as the first day, it was pretty clear that the possibility of a result were remote. India missed a great chance to hit South Africa early and capitalise on their lack of preparation. It was the best opportunity to catch their batsmen on the wrong foot - like Australia regularly manage in Brisbane, which usually hosts the first Test of a tour on a pacy track - but the pitch allowed them the perfect chance to acclimatise to the conditions.

South Africa will obviously be thrilled with their batsmen's efforts, but it's their fightback with the ball on the fourth day that will give them the most cheer. To have recovered from the shellacking handed out by Virender Sehwag and return with such bristling intensity was a clear sign of how eager they are to do well in this series. Not only did they stop India from rattling along but imposed themselves on the middle and late order.

Graeme Smith said he couldn't remember a day when his side bounced back so well. "It was an incredible [fourth] day," he said, "and to then come out and bat as solidly and positively as we did was good for us. It was about keeping it really simple with the ball. We changed gameplans, decided to take the new ball early and knew we needed to attack. Our bowlers maybe looked for a bit too much swing with the first new ball but we changed the gameplan on day four.

"I can't think of any day when we shifted the game so much. We've batted out days and bowled well in others but this was different."

How did his side plan to handle Virender Sehwag in the forthcoming games? "His whole game is suited to these sort of wickets," he said. "We've seen him struggle on wickets with some pace and bounce. Here he's set up - he's unorthodox. I think we've got good gameplans against him. They may not have worked here but that doesn't mean we didn't plan."

 
 
I thought we bowled really well - from the start that they had in the first session to pull it back and also to pick their last four wickets pretty quicklyAnil Kumble
 

If South Africa fought back on the fourth day, India did a good job on the second and third. Anil Kumble praised his side for the comeback and even said they could take more out of this game than their opponents. "I thought we bowled really well - from the start that they had in the first session to pull it back and also to pick their last four wickets pretty quickly," he said. "That was the positive thing. Having said that the way we came and batted being 540 down, showed a lot of character."

Was he concerned Harbhajan Singh and himself weren't as effective as might have been expected? "As soon as you come to India people start talking about spinners right from day one and till the last day, people keep mentioning spinners. Even when we're playing away , it's about the spinners, that's something I've noticed through my career. We have the experience and would like to do well but it's not just about spin. Everybody has the role and responsibility to do for the team and I am first a bowler and then a captain. It was tough the first couple of days when the wicket played at its best.

"South Africa have travelled well, if you look at the way they have done from the time they first came here to now, they have been improving. That is a challenge for us. We definitely have the potential to ensure we take wickets on any surface."

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo