Kallis and Amla centuries deflate India
Jacques Kallis defended like a rock, attacked like The Rock, put behind him the odd play and miss, and scored 120 out of South Africa's 193 for 2 by tea. Hashim Amla, whom he joined at 6 for 2, gave him the strike when he was in the zone and took charge after tea when India slowed the scoring down with defensive fields and reverse-swing. Both scored unbeaten centuries to put together South Africa's highest partnership against India and, by stumps, render Zaheer Khan's opening spell of 6-4-2-2 to a footnote.
Zaheer's burst seemed to have arrested dramatically the chain of events going against India. VVS Laxman couldn't regain his fitness in time, Rohit Sharma injured himself at the last minute playing football, reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha made his debut as a specialist batsman and MS Dhoni lost the toss. Then Zaheer brought relief, but not without some luck.
A sharp bouncer from Zaheer hit Ashwell Prince on the arm guard and the batsman was given out caught behind. Perhaps used to the review system, Prince wanted to challenge the decision but had to walk off. There was no luck involved in how Zaheer set him up, though. He beat him with deliveries coming in, got an edge with one that left the batsman, and then finally slipped in the bouncer. Not too short, headed for the face, not giving Prince any room to get out of the way. It didn't take Zaheer long to squeeze past Graeme Smith's angled bat either.
Then Kallis and Amla took over. Not through a brilliant counterattack right away. When they came together, Ishant Sharma was disciplined in support to Zaheer, and the spinners found disconcerting turn. Scoring took a backseat: the first boundary came in the 10th over, a square cut by Amla, also the first sweetly-timed shot of the series.
Spin came on in the 12th over, at 16 for 2, and immediately there was turn. Perhaps too much turn. Amit Mishra spun legbreaks across batsmen on more than one occasion, was denied an lbw because the ball spun too much, and started looking for too much, bowling outside leg too.
Kallis remained serene with all this happening around him. Not at the cost of urgency. Frustrated, Mishra tried too hard, looking for the unplayable quick delivery, and when he pitched ever so short, Kallis pulled him over midwicket in back-to-back overs. It ended the period of struggle, taking South Africa to 47 for 2 in the 22nd over, and Kallis level with Amla's score - 21 not out. Few would have imagined what was to come: when Kallis reached his 34th Test hundred - level with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara - Amla had moved to 38. In close to a couple of hours, Amla had scored 17, Kallis 79, and India had lost initiative.
That shouldn't take credit away from Amla. He came in to bat before Kallis, but by then had faced 50 deliveries fewer, making sure the better batsman faced more bowling.
After hitting Mishra out of the attack before lunch, Kallis turned his attention to Harbhajan. Consistently he got outside the line of off stump, making Harbhajan bowl closer and closer. When he got too close and too full, Kallis slog-swept twice, and later played the trademark inside-out drive.
Zaheer came back for a spell before lunch, managed some reverse, but he was taken for runs too. Two Kallis shots either side of the break against Zaheer stood out among the many special ones. Zaheer was getting the ball to straighten from round the stumps and managed to square Kallis up on the odd occasion, but twice he strayed narrowly. Kallis waited for those deliveries like only the select few can, and closed the face at the last moment, beating deep fine leg on both occasions. The second of those took him to 85 off 138 balls, out of South Africa's 124. He had been 12 off 39 at one point.
Mishra still kept getting deliveries to spin across Kallis, but none of that carried into the next ball he would face. Of the 89 balls Kallis faced from Mishra, he scored 54 runs. Not bad at all when the bowler is troubling you. The century came in typical fashion. Kallis read a topspinner from Harbhajan from round the stumps, went deep into the crease, let the ball speed on to him, turned the bat face, got it past leg slip, and strolled through for a single. Harbhajan too was picked on by Kallis, going for 45 off 69 deliveries. He couldn't even manage a maiden.
After tea India came out with more defensive field sets, and Kallis with a more peaceful mindset. That's when Amla took over, using his feet well to Harbhajan and Mishra, scoring through covers against both. Unlike Kallis, he did present two chances. When on 61, he edged Zaheer between Dhoni and M Vijay, closer to the slip than the keeper. On 82, he hit uppishly towards S Badrinath at short mid-on, but the debutant couldn't dive in front.
In the final session, Amla scored 55 of the 92 runs, hitting six boundaries. One of those, a sweep off Virender Sehwag, took him to his eighth hundred. Apart from those two half chances, India failed to create any opportunity on a pitch that had become slower still, and a solid Kallis had eyes firmly set on the elusive double-century.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo