Sehwag and Tendulkar drive India ahead
The Sehwag storm struck South Africa with full force and pretty much blew everything in its way to a 13th 150-plus score. Amid the mayhem, it was easy to forget the cool, pleasant breeze that was Sachin Tendulkar's 92nd international century - his fourth in four Tests. They added 249 runs for the third wicket and kept South Africa wicketless for 57.4 overs but, once the two quietened, South Africa struck back with three quick wickets to retrieve some of the momentum in the match.
Sehwag rattled them with a vicious assault on the new ball, put behind him the Gautam Gambhir run-out and, after a brief quiet, punished them some more. His 87-ball hundred would have been even faster but for a relative lull of 10 off 21 balls. Tendulkar enjoyed playing in the shadow of Sehwag's strike-rate, kept scoring at an even pace and, unlike Sehwag, didn't give South Africa a single chance.
Two critical moments in the first session determined the flow of the game. Sehwag - 43 off 21 then - had the fastest Test fifty and a few other records in sight when he ran Gambhir out, and he chastised himself by playing disciplined cricket for a while. Around the same time Morne Morkel indulged in some reverse-rattling, took out M Vijay, troubled Sehwag with accurate bouncers and induced an edge only to see JP Duminy - at first slip because of the finger injury to Graeme Smith - drop him on 47. Sehwag could have gone at an even more frenetic rate but for the run-out. South Africa could have been in control had Sehwag fallen then.
Sehwag's onslaught started when Dale Steyn failed to get any swing. Somehow the ball didn't come out right, the seam wobbled, and Nagpur was a distant memory. When there is no swing, Steyn's pace is his biggest enemy so today the faster they came the faster they went. Nor did he get the Morkel's bounce, which meant that when Steyn went for the ribs, Sehwag could easily flick it past midwicket.
The storm started with that gentle little flick and then came three boundaries in three balls in the third over: placed over point, whipped to square leg, and slashed past point. Morkel got the treatment in his third over too: three boundaries through the off side, one off a delivery that clocked 152.6kmph. Wayne Parnell replaced Morkel immediately, and immediately he was carved for a four and a six into the rubble of a stand under reconstruction.
The next ball Sehwag faced he hit an off-drive for four, and then came the run-out. It was time for drinks and Sehwag threw away his protective gear in disgust. That was when Morkel came back but his charged-up, accurate burst seemed to have ended with that dropped chance.
When Sehwag came back from lunch, the cautious approach had been thrown out and he was blazing away again. For company he had Tendulkar. If you were a bowler, there was nowhere to hide.
Sehwag showed that to Steyn early in his second spell. Punch, whip, steer, 10 runs off three deliveries. Steyn to Sehwag then: 11 balls, 25 runs, five boundaries. Tendulkar joined the fun, defending everything full but steering Steyn for two boundaries. Paul Harris, meanwhile, didn't have the luxury of a big score, bowled round the stumps, and was slog-swept and hit inside out by Sehwag for a six and a four.
Back came Morkel, the best bowler on the day, to be given the worst sort of treatment a best bowler can be given. This time Tendulkar took the lead. Two fullish deliveries, two clips to the on side, one to the left of square leg, one to the right. In his next over, he gave Sehwag width with three deep fielders on the off side. One to the left of deep point, and one to the right. Sehwag 89 off 72, Tendulkar 38 off 61. India were 165 for 2 in 30.2 overs, with the bonus of South Africa's two best bowlers negated.
In between the hard-hitting there was some toying, with paddles from outside off, reverse-sweeps, clips past midwicket as Sehwag reached his hundred and Tendulkar his fifty without further incident. Harris eventually started bowling over the wicket, and was called wide 12 times because, unlike in Nagpur, he was not looking to get wickets here.
The runs slowed down post tea. When Sehwag was 128, AB de Villiers, the replacement keeper, missed an easy stumping. By the time Duminy made good his mistake, getting Sehwag in his first over, it might just have been too late. Not quite. Harris went round the wicket in the next over - inexplicably it took him until the Sehwag dismissal to do so - and got a false shot out of Tendulkar.
Steyn came back right away, got his swing back, and beat S Badrinath in the man-versus-boy contest. VVS Laxman struggled to fight the momentum and edged Harris in the next over. It flew wide of slip, the light deteriorated and India ended the day retaining the upper hand despite that late South African surge.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo