South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 1st day December 16, 2010

Morkel and Steyn exact a carefully planned revenge

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Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel must remember Kolkata 2010 the same way the United States remembers Vietnam. That's where they thought they had a chance to defeat an opposition that looked beatable, and that's where they misjudged badly. They were wounded from all fronts, their morale was broken and in the end, they lost the battle.

After their victory in Nagpur a week earlier, South Africa had an ideal opportunity to win the series in the subcontinent. That never happened. They collapsed to 296 on a turning track at Eden Gardens and conceded a massive 643/6 to lose by an innings and 57 runs. Dale Steyn bowled thirty overs and Morne Morkel 26, both conceding 115 runs apiece. Virender Sehwag, in particular, treated the pair as though they were nothing more than cheap rag dolls. Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman followed, although in less manic fashion, and then MS Dhoni joined the party. Steyn and Morkel were left hurting. On Thursday, at SuperSport Park in Centurion, they exacted a carefully planned revenge.

"It's the most important thing not to forget your aggression," Morkel said after the first day when a mixture of that attacking instinct and ingenious strategy helped South Africa seize the advantage.

The match was being billed as a contest between South Africa's bowlers and India's batsmen, in particular the openers on both sides, and it did not disappoint. Steyn versus Sehwag was considered the heavyweight fight but it lasted just three balls. The first two were regulation Steyn balls, shaping away outside off and Sehwag dutifully left them. In his next over, Steyn began with a similar delivery, moving away just a touch. Sehwag could not resist.

He didn't care that Hashim Amla was positioned at short third-man for in case he gave in to the temptation. The urge to hit on the up was too tempting and Sehwag went for it. In doing so, he scooped it off the outside edge to Amla giving South Africa immediate reward, even though they were prepared to wait. "We knew we would have to stay calm and patient and that he would give it away," Morkel said.

The middleweight clash lasted a few more rounds. Morkel was unrelenting as he banged in short balls by the half-dozen to Gautam Gambhir, but mixed them up well. He topped 151 kph at times and sent the ball whizzing around Gambhir's ears in the first over. In the second over he bowled to Gambhir the real crux of the strategy emerged. Two short balls, followed up by a fuller one, and then another. When Morkel, elegant as a giraffe, reached down to save four off his own bowling from the second fuller ball, it was as though he was prophesising his own victory.

He almost had his man in the next over when a nasty bouncer took something on the way through to Mark Boucher. Umpire Steve Davis thought it shaved something other than the glove. Morkel did not relent and gave Gambhir no scoring opportunities as the pattern of short, short, full continued. Gambhir survived Morkel's first spell but just as he was relaxing, Morkel returned from the other end and continued the same trend. Two more short balls, and then Gambhir perished to the follow-up. He was too late on the full ball and the outside edge was comfortably taken by Paul Harris at first slip.

The way Steyn and Morkel varied their lengths was crucial to their success. "They weren't sure whether to go forward or back," Morkel said. Steyn used the seam movement in exemplary fashion, particularly as he got the ball to go away from Rahul Dravid and in to Gambhir. Morkel's height allowed him to extract the spongy bounce but he managed to mix the short balls with a range of deliveries that landed on a good length and ones that were full enough to tease the batsmen's toes. It was that assortment that got Dravid out as he was hit on the pads by a delivery that stayed lower than expected.

Steyn came out spitting venom after tea. The over he bowled to Tendulkar immediately after the break covered an entire spectrum. It contained a delivery that moved away, one that straightened, one that moved in, a bouncer and an over-pitched ball. In the next over, Steyn left Laxman aghast by getting right through him and pegging back his middle stump. He also got rid of Tendulkar, who was looking strong in the battle against Lonwabo Tsotsobe, with a ball that straightened.

South Africa's opening bowlers, who have been labelled the most fearsome in world cricket, out-thought the Indians with their follow-up balls. The straighter or fuller deliveries were proving to be the wicket-taking ones but they didn't forget that the ball India have always been vulnerable against on tour was the short one.

The pair has always been revered because of their styles complementing each other and Morkel said they aimed to exploit the variety to their advantage. "Myself and Dale are different bowlers. I'm six foot five but he is a bit shorter. I need to use my strength which is my bounce. I don't get a lot of swing and shape off the wicket, but Dale does."

While they were dismantling the Indian line-up, some luck also went their way. Suresh Raina, who was considered a target for short balls, ended up edging a length delivery from Jacques Kallis to third slip. After his dismissal a recovery seemed imminent. Even the South African bowlers expected it. "They have a quality top six or seven and we were lucky that Harbhajan was run out today," Morkel said. Harbhajan appeared confident before he was caught short of his crease by an underarm throw from Mark Boucher.

South Africa will be aware that is still plenty of movement left in the pitch, but an Indian attack without Zaheer Khan is a far less scary prospect than one with him. Morkel has some advice for his batsmen when they get they turn out tomorrow. "You need to leave well. It nips about but it's a touch slow." First, South Africa have one more wicket to claim but they must sense that the end is close with a debutant and a captain struggling for form at the crease. Then the revenge will be complete.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • chokkashokka on December 18, 2010, 3:43 GMT

    Cricket is not meant to be played on pastures where Smith and his cattle herd feeds. How is this wicket any better than all those that complain about the quality of wickets in India. I say the No. 1 side in the world basically not schedule any further tours in bush country just like it didn't tour New Zealand for years and then the SA curators will grow a brain and we'll see if this bravado of playing to their advantage puts food on their table. What a joke of a wicket which gives such a tremendous amount of advantage to the side that wins the toss - you might as well decide the game by the toss. No one is watching this Test in India - advertisers should stop paying for such games in these bush-wacked countries.

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2010, 19:35 GMT

    @mrcricketlover: Which they duly did :)

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2010, 18:09 GMT

    It is making me laugh to see all the guys who are talking as if india has already lost the match or series for that matter,,common guys its just two days into a test match,, if south african batsmen have scored runs on a track which has already eased out then so can indian batsmen lets wait for the result and talk about it! still early days .......wake up

  • thiagaraj005 on December 17, 2010, 17:43 GMT

    What happen to Irfan Pathan?Plz bring him back.I want to see him again.He is certainly better option than Unadkat and all those backups.Why dont the selectors consider him???

  • MaruthuDelft on December 17, 2010, 17:13 GMT

    Sachin has failed again. It is important to score in the very first innings to give your team the psychlogical advantage. Even in his hay days Sachin would come up with something after India had lost the initial test. He is that good. It is non sense to compare him ti Viv Richards.

  • klobania on December 17, 2010, 17:00 GMT

    @prabhar u seem to be perfect day dreamer thinking of sehwag's 300 plus where he got out for duck in first innings n sachin of 200 runs like in odi. can u tell me how many matches he needed to achieve that milestone around 400 matches so wailt for another 400 matches that is too on flat pitch with 2nd rated bowling attack then only he might achieve the same feat

  • Tamilan123456 on December 17, 2010, 16:54 GMT

    Lankans..If u say we (Indians) gud in home pitch, then SA also doing the same thing in thier home pitch...we did somany records in SA grounds...dont be silly with one match...and dont understand why u r commenting on INDIA's NO 1....and what you people know about indian pitches...indian pithces are batting pitches not only India..for opponent team also.we are not changing pitches after our batting...If you r gud, u have to prove here also...and i dont understand, why u r so hype australian and SA..teams..even u r from Asian countries...U WANT NO .1 position..ok..dont cry..WE WILL GIVE U...:):)

  • JustOUT on December 17, 2010, 16:36 GMT

    @hariprasad - Sehwag proved in previous tour of SA?? when is it in 2000 during his debut?? wake up.

  • LT11 on December 17, 2010, 16:36 GMT

    Who ever said Sehwag is a flat track batsman, I dont know his country but i must say their bowler might have got hardest time on earth to bowl Sehwag.. Quite possible with the kind of batsman Sehwag is and success of him can be a reason of jealousy for others.. Dont worry..India always start on back foot and finish on front foot.. Let other also enjoy this moment because they get these moments for very small time...

  • dummy4fb on December 17, 2010, 16:13 GMT

    With just one failure you cannot judge Sehwag as a flat-track batsman, he has proved himself playing in Australia, New Zealand, England, and previous tour to SA. Just need to wait and watch for coming days........

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