South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 2nd day December 27, 2010

Series comes alive after wicket-fest

India 205 (Steyn 6-50) and 92 for 4 lead South Africa 131 (Harbhajan 4-10, Zaheer 3-36) by 166 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

The world's two best batting line-ups faltered with 18 wickets - a Kingsmead record - falling on a wildly fluctuating second day as India clawed their way back into contention in the series. South Africa seemed to have the contest sewn up when their relentless quicks packed off the Indian tail in a hurry, but the returning Zaheer Khan inspired a comeback that resulted in a priceless 74-run lead before poor strokes from some of the much-decorated names in the Indian batting set up a tantalising third day.

The day promised to be a re-run of Centurion - after India's batting fails on a damp pitch, the sun comes out on the second day,the pitch eases out and South Africa's run-machines bat India out of the game. It may well have turned out that way but for the inspired Zaheer, whose relentless hostility when Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma were wasteful with the new ball kept India fighting. There was also a fortuitous Jacques Kallis run-out, an unplayable snorter from Sreesanth that accounted for AB de Villiers, and some outstanding catches - including No. 200 for Rahul Dravid - that combined to hurt South Africa.

Many Indian fans associate Durban with the infamous drubbing dished out in 1996, when India were bowled out for 100 and 66 in their two innings, but it hasn't been the best ground for South Africa either in recent times: they made 138 against Australia in 2008-09, and 133 against England last year, and this time fared even worse, folding for 131.

Things were going to plan for South Africa till ten minutes before lunch, by when they had moved to 67 for 2 with their middle-order bulwarks, Hashim Amla and Kallis, building a partnership. Amla punched a ball back towards Ishant, who half-fielded it and unintentionally parried it back onto the stumps at the non-striker's end, catching Kallis out of his ground. Worse followed for South Africa, when de Villiers was dismissed by a ripper from the hitherto off-colour Sreesanth, bouncing sharply and cutting away to surprise the batsman, who thumbed it to the keeper.

Still, there was no need to panic as Amla continued to be in supreme form. His back-foot drives were the stand-out shots in a calming innings, but he missed a straighter one from Harbhajan Singh to be struck in front of middle, for 33. Like most other batsmen in the match, he too failed to convert his start; this was only the seventh time since 1935 that no batsman from either team has made a half-century in the first innings.

The last specialist batsman, Ashwell Prince, was troubled by Zaheer's movement right through his innings. He made an edgy 13 before finally falling to Zaheer, the ball cannoning onto the stumps as he attempted a footwork-free drive.

It continued the excellent work Zaheer had done with the new ball. If India were demoralised by their limp batting, Zaheer showed no signs of it. He was accurate, getting the ball to jag around, and frequently mouthing off at the batsmen. He was rewarded with the wicket of Graeme Smith - for the 10th time in 21 international innings - as a leaden-footed prod ended in MS Dhoni's gloves. Then, a confident Alviro Petersen walked across the stumps, attempting to work the ball to the leg side, but had the misfortune of seeing his bails dislodged as the ball was dragged back from his pads.

If Zaheer sparked India to life, the fight was continued by a clutch of spectacular catches, not something always associated with Indian fielding. Dravid flashed across to his left from first slip to pouch a faint edge from Steyn, Cheteshwar Pujara again showed his skill at short leg, stretching to his right to snaffle a prod from Paul Harris, and Harbhajan latched on to a swirler at fine leg to send back Morne Morkel and hasten the end of the South African innings.

With the lead in the bag, India's openers started off positively. Virender Sehwag and M Vijay had put on the match's biggest partnership - 43 - in the first innings and added 42 in the second, with Sehwag as usual haring away at a run-a-ball. The big threat of Steyn was seen off, and India were effectively 116 for 0 for at that stage.

Then came a bunch of bad strokes that allowed South Africa to draw level in the series. First, Sehwag wafted at a wide, length ball to nick to the keeper; then, Dravid went for an on-the-up drive to another wide delivery and gave Boucher his seventh catch of the match. Sachin Tendulkar came out full of aggression, getting off the mark with a punishing slash past point for four, but India's tormentor Steyn returned to take out Tendulkar who guided the first ball of his spell to third slip. India had lost four wickets for 14, before VVS Laxman and Pujara played out the final hour to ensure there was no more damage.

India had lost four wickets early in the morning as well, when Steyn completed his 15th five-wicket haul, and Morkel pitched it up to hassle the tail-enders. South Africa were in total control then, but no one could have foreseen the excitement that followed, which has left the game in balance.

Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo