'We've been brought up not to play selfish cricket' - Karthik
After the Table-Mountain high of the opening day, it was a case of the morning after for most of the Indians. A promising position was squandered with the bat, and an erratic bowling performance then allowed Graeme Smith and Hashim Amla to build up some real momentum in the closing stages of play.
Dinesh Karthik played his part behind the stumps, and will certainly have a bigger role to play once Anil Kumble settles in on a pitch that already has significant rough patches. For the moment though, he can reflect on his opening-day display, a doughty four-hour innings that spanned 170 balls and realised 63 runs. A poor decision ended it, but by then, Karthik and Wasim Jaffer had already added 153 for the first wicket, the best opening stand by any team against South Africa in more than two years.
"It was very challenging opening the innings and playing great bowlers like Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini," said Karthik, speaking after the second day's play at Newlands. "To get off to a good start boosted my confidence and my self-esteem."
Though the pitch bore more resemblance to the ones that he left behind back home, opening was still a stiff test of Karthik's technique, especially when it came to choosing which balls to play. "As an opener, it's important that you trust your technique because if you feel there's a problem, you might not be able to handle good balls," he said. "You've got to trust your technique if you want to bat out a session. It's not an easy thing to do but hopefully, I'll keep getting better."
When the series began, the prospect of opening in Cape Town would have been far from his mind, given that there were three specialist openers in the squad. But with Virender Sehwag's poor form forcing him down the order, and Gautam Gambhir short of match practice, it was left to Karthik to face the new-ball flak with Jaffer. "The night before the game, Rahul Dravid told me to be prepared, saying: 'You might be asked to open'. So, when he told me the next morning that I'd be opening, I was prepared."
According to Karthik, there had been no doubts in his mind when he was asked to do the job, nor was there a feeling that he was being made a sacrificial lamb. "It's important to be a team man," he said. "At the end of the day, you have to do what the team wants you to do. That's how we have been brought up; not to play selfish cricket."
For a man playing his first Test in over 15 months, he certainly came through the ordeal with reputation enhanced. The hard work starts now. The first step can often be fuelled by adrenaline, but an encore needs far more strength of character.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo