Dravid - 'We've got our noses in front'
After a hard day's toil that produced nine wickets for 229 runs in 87.3 overs, Rahul Dravid was a weary but moderately satisfied man. Assuming that they showed requisite application with the bat, India are now in pole position to go on and win the game, but having been part of several false dawns in his time, Dravid was taking little for granted.
"We had a good day today, considering the fact that they started at 144 for 1," he said, wiping the sweat off his brow. "I think to bowl 90 overs and restrict them to 229 for 9 was a very good effort. There was no vicious turn and the wicket played pretty slow. The boys worked very hard."
Dravid, who has been on two other tours of South Africa dating back to 1996, admitted that the pitch prepared at Newlands had surprised him, just as it had shocked Graeme Smith and the South Africans. "We don't expect this kind of surface in South Africa," he said with a straight face. "This is the first time I've come across such a track here."
Having said that, Dravid reckoned that the curator had perhaps been influenced by India's pace-bowling resources. On a helpful pitch at the Wanderers, they had skittled out South Africa for 84, ensuring that there was never any danger of a green top being dished out. "When you have good seamers who have performed well, the opposition tries to remove the grass and prepare hard and bouncy tracks," he said. "That's the advantage of having a good allround attack."
Fortunes fluctuated throughout the day, with both teams swapping the higher ground until India picked up the last three South African wickets for just one run. "We've got our noses in front and we're happy to be bowling in the fourth innings," said Dravid. "That's the advantage we have. We have Kumble and the way both Viru and Sachin have bowled is heartening for us. The key, obviously, is to bat well tomorrow."
Dravid harboured no illusions about what lay in store, saying that he expected a battle of attrition. "If we can bat well in the first session or session-and-a-half, then we can push along the scoring rate," he said. "South Africa will be looking to dry up the runs. They'll probably bowl a spinner and pitch into the rough. But that's expected and we've got to counter that."
He said that time was unlikely to be a major factor in his calculations, adding that his previous experience of such pitches told him as much. "The pace of the game is very quick on such wickets on the last day. It's something we've noticed a lot in India, where the game might meander for three days and then things start to happen. The ball starts kicking and bouncing, so there's a lot of cricket left to be played."
Though Dravid refused to confirm or deny it, India may yet move Virender Sehwag back up the order in their quest to set South Africa a challenging target. But regardless of where he bats, you sense that only five hours of tough, committed batting stand between Dravid's team and a very special place in Indian cricket lore.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo