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April 4, 2008
If an Indian team with ambitions to world dominance found the opening day at the Sardar Patel Stadium humiliating, day two was soul-destroying, with a classy AB de Villiers double-century and a dogged Jacques Kallis hundred underpinning a relentless South African charge to victory. By the time the rain came down to wash away Indian tears, they had rampaged to 494 for 7, with de Villiers still going strong on 217, the highest score by a South African against India.
In the 77.2 overs bowled in the day, India managed just three wickets, two of them when the batsmen were in the quest for quick runs after tea. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh picked up one apiece, with Mark Boucher and Morne Morkel trapped leg before, but by then the only question being posed was just how imposing the lead would be.
de Villiers needed just 146 balls for his second hundred, and played some stupendous strokes in the final session. A huge six off Harbhajan landed on the roof at what is a massive venue, and when he was later gifted a full toss that he creamed through cover, the celebrations could begin. That stroke also brought up the 400-run lead, and de Villiers put the seal on an impressive day's work with a mighty heave off Kumble that soared into the empty stand at deep midwicket. As a weary Indian side trudged off, a defeat of mammoth proportions beckoned unless they could bat with a great deal more application at the second time of asking.
Kumble and his men could reflect on opportunities that came their way early in the proceedings. Harbhajan, the pick of the bowlers, was desperately unlucky against both batsmen. Kallis had made just 61 when he fended one awkwardly off the glove, only to see it roll back and strike the stumps. The bails stayed on, Harbhajan held his head, and the chance had gone. In his very next over, an offbreak went right through de Villiers, missing the stumps by a whisker.
Irfan Pathan was insipid with the old ball, and Kumble soon replaced him at the other end, but the runs slowly started to mount as the pitch showed few signs of menace. de Villiers cut Harbhajan for four, and Kumble was then far from thrilled as a Kallis cover-drive was fumbled over the rope by Sourav Ganguly.
Despite slightly overcast conditions, Kumble didn't call on Sreesanth. By the time the new ball was taken after 81.2 overs, whatever little moisture that might have been in the pitch was long gone. Sreesanth soon made an impact too, striking Kallis on the shoulder with a bouncer and then having an excellent leg-before shout turned down.
Once the initial threat posed by the new ball passed, the runs came freely. de Villiers flicked RP Singh for four and then glanced Sreesanth fine, before Kallis highlighted his power with two contemptuous pulls for four. On the stroke of lunch, Ganguly came on, and a paddle down to fine leg saw de Villiers reach his fifth Test century.
Kallis was on 97 at the time, and the 30th century that took him past Sir Donald Bradman arrived soon after the interval, with a magnificent cover-drive for four off Ganguly. It had been a stolid and at times fortuitous effort, spanning 228 balls, but vital in the context of the match after Harbhajan's three quick wickets on the first afternoon.
The 200-run partnership came from 401 balls, and the runs were milked with ease after that. Pathan was pedestrian at best and Kumble merely restrictive. Both men played the sweep with increasing confidence and it was quite bizarre that Sreesanth, the most effective Indian pace bowler on view, was called on only an hour and ten minutes after lunch.
Kallis swatted the first ball for four, and when an edge then streaked past slip, Sreesanth's frustration boiled over. But instead of self-destructing, he used the anger to produce a gem of a delivery that lifted from outside off stump and caught Kallis in two minds. By the time he tried to arc the bat away, it was too late and the inside edge cannoned into the stumps. He had batted six hours, and the partnership of 256 was South Africa's highest against India, surpassing the 236 that Gary Kirsten, currently India's coach, and Andrew Hudson added at the Eden Gardens in 1996-97.
A sparse crowd watched it all with a mixture of frustration and reluctant admiration, and there was something forlorn about the few Indian flags being waved in the stands on a day when dreams of global conquest evaporated in egg-frying heat.
Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at CricinfoFeeds: Dileep Premachandran
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