Steyn provides bowling master class
When the covers came off the Kingsmead pitch early this morning, bowlers the world over would have felt like many men do on their wedding day: the world's most beautiful bride had been unveiled. It was as green as it was talked up to be, almost living up to that legend about the only difference between the Durban pitch and outfield being the painted lines. With gloomy overhead conditions that appeared to have made themselves comfortable for at least a day, it was a bowler's paradise. We'd seen this movie before. Ten days ago. In Centurion.
The psychological mind- games reached their climax when Allan Donald said the pitch looked "exactly the same" as the one on which India were shot out for 66 and 100 in 1996. "Exactly" is probably an exaggeration, but it was a surface that the South Africa bowlers would have relished bowling on and the India batsmen would have felt jittery batting on, especially with memories of Morne Morkel's SuperSport Park destruction fresh in their minds. It wasn't Morkel who would be a worry this time, though.
Durban is known for swing and Dale Steyn's arrived like the 1960s. He showed his ability to move the ball away from the first over and exploited the conditions to his advantage. "We had big bounce and a little bit of movement off the seam," Steyn said at the end-of-day press conference.
At the other end, Morne Morkel, with height on his side, was trying to produce something similar to what he did in Centurion, but had no success this time around. While the short ball comes quite naturally to him and has earned him much success, he wasted it today. He used it too often and didn't execute his follow-ups with the same strategic smartness as he did in Centurion. When Sehwag hit him for four off a fuller ball, Morkel returned to the short ball in defence. His line was questionable, on off stump, or just outside and his first spell was aborted after three overs. Things didn't improve when he returned, and he bowled an over in which M Vijay did not have to play at a single ball.
The bowling at the Old Fort Road end remained gentle and while Morkel and Lonwabo Tsotsobe were posing little threat, Steyn was following the gospel Graeme Smith had preached earlier in the week. Smith emphasised the importance of bowling well, even if conditions are favourable. He went as far as to say that the pressure is greater on the bowlers to perform well when the pitch offers them something.
"Everybody is expecting wickets and we knew something would happen," Steyn said. He usually bowls an opening spell of five or six overs, but he knew patience would pay off and insisted on bowling an extended spell. "I always knew there was a wicket just around the corner. I kept saying to Graeme saying one more, one more." It was during one of the "one more" overs, that he dismissed Virender Sehwag, with slight away movement. Steyn kept begging. His next over went wicket-less, but then another "one more" and Vijay, who had left so well, poked at one. The wickets came at crucial times, just when South Africa may have started to worry about wasting the new ball.
Tsotsobe got Sachin Tendulkar to poke at a wide one in the first over after lunch, but Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman came together to steady India and it was up to Steyn to intervene again. Dravid received a beautiful ball, bouncing steeply and moving away a touch, although it was the bounce more than the movement that got Dravid out. Steyn's movement was the highlight of his bounce and he admitted that it was the right tool to bring out on this occasion. "I'm very lucky that I can get the ball to do that. I don't try and do it all the time. You have to be able to do it on certain days. If it doesn't work you going to get clipped through midwicket and sent to the leg-side boundary. You don't want to be a hero every ball."
Steyn was certainly was not the hero for his fourth wicket, Tsotsobe was. An outrageous dive to his right at midwicket saw him snatch Laxman's pull out of the air. 'It was unbelievable," Steyn said. "I only got three wickets today and he got a great catch. He can fall asleep sometimes in the field but that was unbelievable. I am actually pretty jealous of that catch."
Tsotsobe came into this match under pressure to keep his place, although with Wayne Parnell having contracted chicken pox, it now seems as though Tsotsobe would have played no matter what. He was fairly mediocre up front, barely hovering around the 130kph mark and showing a desperate need for some more pace. Although he was pinpointed as the weak link, Steyn denied this. "I thought he bowled nicely at SuperSport Park."
Tsotsobe captured the scalp of Tendulkar and also picked up the wicket of Cheteshwar Pujara late in the day, which went a long way towards backing up his selection. "He got another opportunity today and he's proved that he can bowl," Steyn said. "He is definitely somebody who is going to be around this team for a long time."
Steyn said that Tsotsobe should be open to learning from everyone, as he became about 18 months ago. "Before, I thought I could do things on my own and let my own skills take over. But it's a team sport, and if you can take in as much information as you can and listen to the guys around you that have been around for 150 matches, that can make a difference in your career."
India still have four wickets in hand and Steyn has stressed the importance of focusing on knocking them over. "We will treat their bowlers like we treat their top-order batters. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent