Zaheer's bunny, and catch No. 200
The mental hold
In the build-up to the Test, when we all knew that Zaheer Khan would be back, the question was inevitably popped to Graeme Smith. Any special plans for Zaheer? "I don't personalise things too much, I prepare for Zaheer the same way I prepare for everyone else," he said. "He's a new-ball bowler, I'm an opening batter so it's a natural challenge. He has obviously bowled well to left-handers so it's an exciting prospect." When it came down to the action on Monday, it took Zaheer five deliveries to get Smith's outside edge and MS Dhoni pouched the catch. Zaheer has now got Smith out 10 times in 21 international innings. For a batsman as mentally strong as Smith, that is an interesting statistic.
Rahul Dravid had taken five Tests to move from 198 catches to 199. It had been slow progress, what with an injured finger, a dropped catch, and a friendly bowling attack behind him. Given he had been fielding in the outfield in the home series against New Zealand, there was a concern that catch No. 200 might not come in fitting fashion for this special slip fielder. Thankfully, nothing came his way then. And when the 200th arrived on Monday, it was befitting of the moment. A fine edge off a Harbhajan Singh offbreak missed Dhoni's gloves by inches, and Dravid reacted fast, dove to his left, and took it in his plastered left hand. It was also his fiftieth catch off Harbhajan's bowling. At the end of the innings, he walked over to the umpires and took the ball; he had earned it.
Sreesanth was still struggling, still overstepping, when he bowled his fourth no-ball in the last over before the lunch interval. Perhaps he was sick of walking all the way back to the top of his mark, because he bowled the next one off a much shorter run-up. And lo, he produced a beauty; a back-of-a-length delivery around off stump, which moved away and took AB de Villiers' edge. Knowing how superstitious Sreesanth is, it was a surprise he didn't bowl off the shorter run for the rest of the innings.
The precautionary moment … or was it?
In the 64th over of India's innings, Ishant Sharma fended at a short delivery from Morne Morkel and it ballooned up between Morkel and Smith at short extra cover. Smith didn't go for it, but Morkel did. The ball landed safely in the end, and the commentary box couldn't get enough of the joke that Smith didn't go for it because he didn't want to break another of his poppadum fingers.
The lucky break
It's funny how much of this game can at times come down to luck. India had not had the rub of the green at all in the series up until Monday. They had lost both tosses, had their strike bowler pull out the day before the first Test, and somehow managed to find wet conditions when they were batting and dry ones when they had to field. On Monday, Zaheer produced an inswinger to Alviro Ptersen that hit his protruding thigh pad, and trickled onto the stumps. One stroke of luck brings two, and Ishant got a hand to a straight drive from Hashim Amla, and Jaques Kallis was caught backing up too far. India's bowlers didn't look back after that.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo