Arthur fumes over delays
Mickey Arthur, South Africa's coach, was left fuming after the multitude of delays on the third day, and was hoped that the stoppages that have peppered this game won't combine with inclement weather to ruin his team's chances of squaring the series. Arthur said that South Africa were roughly where they needed to be with two days remaining: 152 ahead with all ten second-innings wickets still standing.
"It was hugely frustrating," he said, when asked about going off early after the umpires decided that the conditions weren't good enough to keep playing, though 37 overs remained to be bowled in the day. "The umpires said to Graeme [Smith] that it [the light] was to the detriment of the fielding side. They clarified later saying that they [fielders] couldn't pick the ball up in the background, and the umpires couldn't pick the lines up.
"We wanted to try and push the game forward tonight. We were frustrated as well with the amount of stoppages throughout the day - ball changes, doctors running onto the field. There needs to be some proper, strong control. I think it took 20 minutes to change one ball today. That kind of thing is unacceptable and we need to speed that up. I don't know if it's a bad batch of balls."
After an even scrap over the first two days, this was emphatically South Africa's day, with an 88-run lead gained, and Graeme Smith and AB de Villiers surviving some probing overs from India's new-ball pairing of Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan. "We always say that the third day of a Test is quite crucial for us," said Arthur. "It sets the Test up. We set ourselves targets this morning and we virtually achieved them. Our goals were to have a 100-run lead - we got 88 - and we wanted to be 200 ahead by close of play tonight. If we hadn't come off for bad light, we'd have been right where we wanted to be."
Asked what had changed from the Wanderers, where South Africa's bowlers were shown up by less experienced opposition, Arthur reached back for every coach's favourite word - execution. "We had the same plans that we had at the Wanderers. We failed to execute in all departments there. Today, we were clinical. It was a very professional display.
"Yesterday afternoon, it was very hot and we knew that we had to hit the right areas and not let them get away. We always say that bringing the scoring rate down equals pressure equals wickets, and we did that. Sometimes, it doesn't happen right then, but Mother Cricket always pays you back."
Arthur refused to be drawn on what sort of target South Africa would like to set the Indians, saying: "Talk of declarations is too premature at this stage. We've got to bat properly to get ourselves into that position. If we get through the first hour unscathed, we'll look to push on and see where we get to."
Last January, they dominated a Sydney Test, only to see Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting romp home in pursuit of 287, but Arthur said that memories of that traumatic defeat wouldn't colour decisions on the fourth day. "Sydney last year was disappointing because we lost virtually the whole of the fourth day to rain," he said. "Had we not, we could have batted them out of the game and given ourselves four sessions to bowl Australia out. We were forced into a declaration to try and win the game because we were 1-0 down in the series. We'll try and push for the win. There's still a lot of work left, and we'll hopefully get a 180 overs."
For the Indians, all is not lost, with Zaheer Khan insisting that it was very much an open game. "We have to try and get them out as early as possible," he said, after India failed to make a breakthrough in 19.3 overs on Thursday afternoon. "The overcast conditions were pretty helpful for swing bowling, and hopefully, it will stay this way tomorrow. It is too early to say how this Test is headed, there is a lot of cricket left and we need to stay positive and play good hard cricket. We need to maintain good intensity throughout tomorrow. Picking up early wickets is the key."
Smith and de Villiers had added 64 by the time the players went off, the first decent opening partnership of the series, and Zaheer was left to reflect on a passage of play when little went right. "I just feel we were a little unlucky in the last session," he said. "We beat the bat pretty regularly and I feel that we bowled well. Hopefully, we will put up a good performance tomorrow, and set up the match in our favour."
He also felt that the quality of the support he has received on this tour had played a big part in India ruffling more than a few South African feathers with the ball. "Sreesanth has bowled exceptionally well throughout this tour, he is a good find for India and hopefully, he will continue to bowl this way," he said. "Getting early breakthroughs always helps, and it's important to bowl well in partnerships."
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo