South Africa v India, 1st Test, Centurion, 4th day December 19, 2010

South Africa's two moments of brilliance

The way the hosts' bowlers managed to execute their plans on a flat pitch showed the difference in quality between theirs and India's bowling attacks

Amid all the furore surrounding Sachin Tendulkar's 50th Test century, there were two moments of magic from South Africa's bowlers that meant their team was on the brink of victory at the end of the fourth day in Centurion: the extra bounce and slight away movement from Morne Morkel that got a faint edge off Rahul Dravid's bat and the bullet of a ball that MS Dhoni tried to fend off Dale Steyn. Those were the two defining moments of South Africa's performance in the field on Sunday.

The strategic military-style operation they employed during India's first innings was not going to work in the second. The pitch simply didn't have the same juice in it and could not provide the same assistance. Even though the day's play started in overcast conditions, which helped seam movement, it didn't last longer than 20 minutes. Then, the skies cleared, the heat set in and the pitch baked, presenting the South Africa bowlers with testing conditions on which to knock over the remaining India batsmen.

Paul Harris, South Africa's lone spinner, said they were aware the conditions were not going to be too helpful. "It's got a lot slower. There wasn't much of that tennis ball bounce we saw on the first day," he said at the end-of-day press conference. That meant South Africa had to bowl on a flatter track, similar to the one the India bowlers toiled on during the South Africa innings. "We expected it to be a hard day, and that's what it was. It was proper Test cricket. We had to work for our wickets." It was how the hard work was executed that displayed the difference in class between the two teams' bowling attacks.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Morkel started the fourth day by peppering the nightwatchman Ishant Sharma with short balls. When Morkel threw in a full delivery, Sharma got a leading edge back to him and would have been out if Morkel hadn't overstepped. Despite their attacking intent, there was no early reward for the South Africa bowlers and it was up to Dale Steyn and Jacques Kallis to vary the lengths a little more.

Morkel returned for his second spell with his tactical cap more firmly on and it took just ten balls for him to cash in. He gave Dravid two short balls, one on a length, and then a shorter one that kept low. The next one was perfect: on a length, extra bounce; a real effort-ball from Morkel, and the faint edge to wicketkeeper Mark Boucher removed the man that could easily have hung around all day and probably all of the fifth day too.

South Africa continued to attack in the morning session and Tsotsobe was rewarded for his persistence when Laxman chased a full ball. All four of the seamers had nabbed a wicket by lunch, with Kallis claiming the scalp of Suresh Raina who played an unnecessarily awful shot to be caught at slip.

There's a phrase in Afrikaans that says "Maagies vol, oogies toe (bellies full, eyes closed)," and that describes South Africa after lunch. Harris agreed they bowled more conservatively after the break but also said Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni had switched mindsets by then. "Maybe we didn't bowl as well, but India came out and played with more intensity after lunch."

South Africa might be disappointed with their use of the second new ball. It arrived two overs after lunch and in the first nine overs it was used, Steyn was hit for two fours in an over and Morkel and Kallis, three each. Tendulkar and Dhoni were on the attack and South Africa went back to a familiar, containing plan. Harris was tossed the ball when it was nine overs old, and bowled an economical spell which gave his team time to put things back into perspective.

An unsuccessful second session and first hour of the third session saw Tendulkar and Dhoni threaten to erase the deficit completely and even pull off a great escape, and Harris said Dhoni, in particular, took away some of South Africa's channels of attack with his aggressive play.

Another moment of pure awesomeness was needed. Dale Steyn wrestled the advantage away from India when he returned for a spell that saw him rely on sheer pace. He hit the 145kph mark twice in his first two overs and then again in the third. It was in that over, that he got a short ball to climb on Dhoni and trap him in an awkward position. All Dhoni could do was hang his bat out and Boucher was on hand to take the catch.

Harris is playing a shadow role again, but it's an important one. He removed Harbhajan Singh late in the day and was getting the ball to turn to Sreesanth at the end. He picked up his 100th wicket in the match, that of Virender Sehwag and is "pretty stoked about it." His focus is not on his own game, but on South Africa "cleaning up tomorrow." It will only take two more moments of magic for them to do that.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • JIGNESH on December 24, 2010, 8:44 GMT

    Tendulkar's 50th hundred was stupid and selfish. He could have done like Harbhajan has done twice against NZ few weeks ago, when Harbhajan made 2 centuries in 2 tests. Sachin should have get more strikes in every over by taking single run at 5th or 6th ball. On the other hand, he always took single on first ball and let Sreesanth and Unadkat face the rest of the deliveries of every over. If Harbhajan, the bowler could do it twice and rescued the India, I am sure, Sachin, the best batsman in the world should have done it if he had tried. But like I said, he just stayed not-out at last and increased his average. I am asking all cricket fans, does Sachin really need to improve his average this way? I don't think so. The bottom line is-Sachin is very ordinary batsman. Even Harbhajan is better warrior than the World's best batsman-Sachin. Once I said "If Bradman is father of Cricket than Sachin is not less than Step-father of Cricket." Well, I was wrong. Sachin is not even son of cricket

  • Owais on December 20, 2010, 11:35 GMT

    Indian fans, I agree with all your comments about good Indian fightback, importance of toss in this wicket, even good attacks looking ordinary on such surfaces etc etc. However, was'nt this supposed to be the "final frontier" for the number one team ? In order to stay number one, Indians will need to show some more resilience. And why are your fans and cricketers so obsessed with personal feats - why could Tendulkar not farm the strike in order to elongate Indian innings and at least tried to give some target to SA batsmen ?

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2010, 10:57 GMT

    I agree with shovwar, SA should be more agressive in approach and should select Imran Tahir, a real aggressive leg spinner with accuracy and turn. rather than a Mild Container like Harris who hardly spins the ball and entirely depend on batsmen's mistakes.It will make SA attack complete in every aspect with 4 quickies and a trickester.

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2010, 10:19 GMT

    Very well play buy SA.............. Now its clear is the no:1 in test ranking suitable or not? This is not to insult Indians, but its true when they are coming to play out of India..............

  • Dummy4 on December 20, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    mr.justOUT other than kallis and AMLA nobody can even come closer to the great indian batting ilne up.........SA must not live in fools pardise,their bats are ORDINARY... EXCEPT THIS.

  • Mehedi on December 20, 2010, 10:07 GMT

    "Cricket is a great game and things can change very quickly" --- very true. The biggest example is India. You stay in No 1 and then the next test, you get bundled out for 136 and loose in innings. I am still impressed that some Indian fans are trying to find excuse in toss, pitch condition etc. Look at Sachin. He proves that it is possible to bat everywhere in the world. Amla, Devliers now have match winning hundreds in India and SA, that means it is possible to do good in both countries. Also, the way SA wins this test should be a very alarming for India. SA was scoring at 4.5 runs per over, lost only 4 wickets and piled up 620 in short time. I will also wait and lets see the whole series.

  • niaz on December 20, 2010, 9:52 GMT

    congrats SA. The wicket seemed to be flat except for the rain delayed first day. SA deserved to win because the lost only 4 wickets on their way to 600+ runs. At least one of the claims of the indian supporters have to be wrong 1] Sreesanth/Isanth almost as good as Morkel 2] Indian batting is far superior than SA.

  • Shulz Van on December 20, 2010, 9:30 GMT

    I am not getting carried away with this result..I knew it from way ahead that this is going to happen and I am telling u the best India can do is Draw 1 match in the series. Or else it can be a white wash....i m sorry for u guys but it might strong...SA are a better side than India...And yes i think Pakistan handled SA better than Indians...Thats why Steyn and Morkel failed to do what they did against India....Just admit it...And Steyn and Morkel are developing now..I was talking about the next Decade...I don see any other attack as devastating in the coming years....

  • ha on December 20, 2010, 9:05 GMT

    Guys, Let us accept that SouthAfrica team is better than India in all the Departments and they deserved to win the series and no1 ranking as well. SAF batting is much superior than India (who is good only at home), SAF Bowling is the best like PAK and they are the top class fielding side. As Shovwar mentioned SAF will take over the NO1 ranking soon shich they deserved more than India. If India can draw any one of the matches , it will be a big achivement for them.

  • Sharif on December 20, 2010, 8:58 GMT

    No.1 Team??? Look brother Tendulkar is a great batsman. but it doesn't mean anything. because every one looking for result. this match makes that Indian bowling is poor only Harbhajan Singh is exceptional. you can't win in SA, this is an unexpected truth. No.1 can beat any team any where in the world. but you can't do it in fastest peach like SA. So i am confused.

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