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

SA's failure to adapt costs them dear

South Africa's failure to adapt their approach to the unexpected threat posed by India's bowlers led to their collapse in the first innings

When South Africa took to the field for the second time in two days, there was something markedly different about them. For the first nine overs, they walked around like the zombies out of the Night of the Living Dead movie. They appeared shell-shocked, well and truly bewildered that on day two they found themselves bowling again.

Even though South Africa had been saying all the right things about expecting India to put up a fight, the knockout punch that the Indian attack dealt them came as a complete surprise. Although South Africa insisted that they respected India and understood the quality of their opposition, they didn't expect that quality to unleash itself in the way it did - through the Indian bowlers.

Graeme Smith, after the first Test in Centurion, stopped just short of saying that he thought India would not be able to take 20 wickets against South Africa. He was asked if he thought the Indian attack was capable of bowling South Africa out twice. This was his answer: "I'd love to say no, but no one wants to touch the money."

Everything about Smith's expression and body language as he spoke showed he didn't believe that India's bowlers could be much of a threat. Today, they didn't even have to take 20 wickets, it was the ten they skittled for 131 runs that shook South Africa's usually solid line-up to its core and exposed one of the team's biggest weaknesses: the inability to regroup once their plans have been bent out of shape by something that is not in their control.

Matters became tense when Smith dutifully put on his bunny ears and fell to Zaheer Khan and the anxiety levels rose when Alviro Petersen was dismissed. But it was when bad luck struck and Jacques Kallis was run out at the non-strikers end by Ishant Sharma that plans started disintegrating. Eight balls later de Villiers fell victim to a peach of a delivery from Sreesanth, a ball he could do nothing about, but it was a sign to South Africa to start taking the Indian threat more seriously.

They didn't seem to do that and when Harbhajan Singh came on to bowl, any strategy South Africa may have had rolled away from them like a Turkish carpet. South Africa targeted Singh successfully in the first Test. Smith even had a little dig at him in the post-match press conference. The South Africa captain was smug in his statement that Paul Harris had had more of an impact than Harbhajan, and performed better throughout the game. His statement may have been accurate, but the manner in which he delivered his observation suggested disdain for Harbhajan.

South Africa may have thought that the Turbanator would be ineffective on this tour but he proved them wrong in emphatic fashion. Hashim Amla, who is traditionally strong on the leg side, and had faced Harbhajan many times before, played the sweep shot to a delivery that held its line and went straight on. He was given out lbw and initially it looked as though he was unlucky but replays showed that the ball would have gone on to hit middle and leg stump.

Harbhajan's next two wickets came from outrageous catches. First, Rahul Dravid took his 200th catch with an impeccably timed dive to his left at slip to dismiss Dale Steyn and then Cheteshwar Pujara anticipated well at short leg to send Harris on his way. Harbhajan's wizardry had not been completely exhausted and he took a stunner of a catch himself on the fine-leg boundary to hand Ishant Sharma a wicket. It was those improbable chances that India latched onto that would have stunned South Africa, who were not expecting such a committed display from the visitors.

It may be easier for South Africa to blame it on their Durban jinx. Kingsmead has been a particularly problematic venue, where South Africa have been bowled out in the 130s in three consecutive seasons. In the 2009-10 edition, they were bundled out for 133 in the second innings against England to lose by an innings and 98 runs. Graeme Swann was the chief destroyer then, taking 5 for 54 in that innings and nine wickets in the match. The season before, South Africa were all out for 138 against Australia. Mitchell Johnson did the bulk of the damage as he quite literally punctured South Africa's plans by breaking Smith's hand and smacking Kallis on the jaw, sending them both to hospital in the space of 16 overs.

Durban is becoming the hoodoo venue for the hosts but they can't blame it for the tailspin they find themselves in after their clinical approach failed. In Kolkata earlier this year, South Africa went from 218 for 2 to 296 all out after an attack from Khan and Harbhajan. It's not just in Durban where the batting struggles to adjust when the need arises. What Kolkata tells us is that South Africa need to have a more dynamic approach so that they can improvise when things aren't going according to plan.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent