Nayar shines after Morkel and Parnell show
South Africans 44 for 0 trail Board President's XI 318 (Nayar 100, Dhwan 70, Morkel 3-24, Parnell 3-66) by 274 runs
The South African bowlers started their first day of cricket on the tour with a sharp delivery that hurried a batsman, and ended it with one that lifted sharply and took the edge through to the second slip. In between they saw the whole spectrum that India could present them in this series, at least as much as is possible in one day of practice.
There was lovely bounce and carry in the morning, seam movement on occasion, an edge that fell short in the first over - as if to remind them of where they were. And then there was some reverse-swing, and a lot of punishment for their spinners, from Abhishek Nayar, Manish Pandey and Shikhar Dhawan. If there was confidence to be drawn from the efforts of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Wayne Parnell, who took seven wickets in 29.4 overs between them, there would be fair amount of concern over the ease with which Paul Harris and Johan Botha were taken for 115 in 24 overs between them for just one wicket.
It has become a bit of a tradition for the Indian A sides to go after the opposition lead spinners, somewhat like the Aussies used to go about trying to "mentally disintegrate" opposition captains. Famously in 1997-98, Amit Pagnis, a Mumbai batsman, during his 60-ball 50, started inflicting on Shane Warne, punishment that would end with nightmares of Sachin Tendulkar coming down the track and hitting him for straight sixes. On Australia's last tour to India, Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli hit Jason Krejza so bad Australia didn't select him until the last Test of the series - where he incidentally took eight wickets in an innings.
One day into the tour, and the onslaughts from Pandey and Nayar might have already lost Harris the mantle as the lead spinner, and Botha couldn't manage much better either. Harris was introduced in the 18th over, and in the next over Ajinkya Rahane would become the fourth wicket to fall, with the score at 56. Cheteshwar Pujara started off with a square-cut boundary in Harris' second over, and Pandey then absolutely got stuck into him. In his next four overs, Harris went for five boundaries and two sixes, all thanks to Pandey's unorthodox hitting.
That Harris didn't enjoy a lot of Graeme Smith's confidence showed in how mid-on and midwicket went back after the first two hits. Pandey still managed to flick-sweep him through the gap, and also hit a straight six and a slog-swept one. Harris' figures read 6-0-43-0 going into lunch, and it was time for Botha straight after lunch. With his first ball, a quick delivery, Botha took out Pujara's middle stump, but that was to be the most joyous moment of his day.
Nayar, not the most aesthetically pleasing or the most talented batsman going around, played him with typical grit and sensibility, along with Dhawan. They started off by working him around for ones and twos, but Botha never looked like getting a wicket in his seven-over first spell that went for 23. After a short breather, Botha was asked to come back, with Smith relatively assured about his pace trio by then.
With the spinners bowling in tandem, Nayar and Dhawan were at their most fluent. In his second over back, Harris was hit for three back-to-back boundaries by Nayar, a straight loft, a paddle sweep, and an orthodox one. With the 3-6 field not working, Harris went back to attacking outside off, and was immediately cut and driven inside-out by Dhawan for boundaries. An over later, it was Botha's turn to be swept for consecutive fours by Nayar. By the end of 64 overs of the innings, Smith had seen enough of the spinners, who had gone for 71 and 44 in their 12 overs each. By then Dhawan had crossed fifty and Nayar was nearing a century.
Outside the spin trouble, though, the day went pretty pleasantly for the South Africans. Morkel and Steyn harassed the top order with rapid pace and steepling bounce. The first six wickets fell for 114, five of them to bouncers. Parthiv Patel edged Morkel, the most menacing of the bowlers, into the slips, and Abhinav Mukund lobbed Steyn to backward point while fending. Rohit Sharma was squared up by Steyn before he started to look comfortable against the gentler pace of Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Parnell, though, hit him high on the bat and got him caught at midwicket. Ajinkya Rahane hooked the same bowler straight into fine leg's lap. Pandey, who looked impressive against spin, was way too late in trying to pull Morkel.
The end of the innings started with a run-out after an injudicious call from Nayar for a single that would have taken him to 98. Dhawan was at the receiving end after a well-made 70. Then came Parnell's reverse-swing, getting Piyush Chawla out, and Jacques Kallis picked the ninth wicket, with Nayar still on 99. Morkel's extra bounce eventually accounted for Nayar, but not before he got the crucial single.
Morkel's third wicket in 7.4 overs rounded up what was a pretty satisfactory day for the South Africans, the spinners aside. It was agreed upon that while only 11 players would bat, the whole squad could be used in the field. That way, one got a look at all their bowlers, with the three pace bowlers choosing themselves, and the batsmen could take breaks from the field and go and have hits in the adjoining indoor nets at the VCA Academy. Not a catch was dropped, not a run-out missed, and the message was sent that the hosts better not give them bouncy tracks in the Tests.