South Africa v India, 3rd Test, Cape Town, 3rd day January 4, 2011

Tendulkar and Steyn sizzle in a battle for the ages

To appreciate Sachin Tendulkar's effort today - his fourth century off his first innings in each of the last four years - it is important to appreciate the most exciting bowler in world cricket at his best

Years later, or weeks later, or days later, when they talk about this series, regardless of the result, they will talk about two Dale Steyn spells that started the first two sessions of the third day of the Cape Town Test. Perhaps the 11 best overs anyone can bowl for just two wickets. It was perfect outswing bowling at high pace, often pitching leg, missing off, too often too good for the batsmen. And if it can be considered possible, after that wicketless first spell, Steyn came out to bowl even better. If one were to strain and look for a possible criticism, it was that he bowled just one straighter one and two bouncers in the first chunk of five overs. Everything else was close to perfect. There wasn't even a no-ball; loose balls were a distant thought altogether.

To appreciate Sachin Tendulkar's effort today - his fourth century off his first innings in each of the last four years - it is important to appreciate the most exciting bowler in world cricket at his best. It was just such a day of Test cricket. Of the 66 balls from hell that Steyn bowled in those two spells, which went for 13 runs and took two wickets, Tendulkar negotiated 48. In that mix of some masterful defending, some luck (he could not have survived that without luck), and huge responsibility, is the difference between India's being even and being woefully behind by the end of the third day.

There was no counterattack there: Steyn was too hot to touch for that. It was good old-fashioned buckling down, doing your best and hoping that the good deliveries are too good for the edge. Then again, Tendulkar played five back-to-back Steyn overs for 10 runs - six of them unintentional - and in this modern world, that calls for an injudicious shot to release the incredible pressure. He reserved the releasing of pressure for Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who bowled well too, but in comparison to Steyn he was like Mother Teresa. Calculated risks were taken: the premeditated pull and the upper-cut in Tsotsobe's first over of the day.

Tendulkar had tired Steyn down, Gautam Gambhir had done the same to Morne Morkel, and with some sort of authority established over Tsotsobe's bowling, it was time for Tendulkar to reap the rewards for the hard work in the first hour. As South Africa awaited the new ball, out came the delicate run-scoring shots, the drives through cover and extra cover, the check drives straight down the ground, the nudges, the paddle sweeps, and the steers to third man. Then, as he approached his century and also the second new ball, Tendulkar saw Gambhir get out, and contributed to Laxman's dismissal through a lovely straight hit off Paul Harris. Time, again, for the old-fashioned Test batting to kick in.

This time he was surer with Steyn, coming well forward to defend, using soft hands, and leaving better, sometimes perilously close to off stump. That couldn't be said of Cheteshwar Pujara, who got an unplayable one from Steyn, and MS Dhoni. Three of Tendulkar's four recent new-year centuries have featured partnerships with the tail - in Sydney, in Chittagong and here. It is something we don't appreciate often enough with Tendulkar, because those after him have in the past inflicted heartbreak on him.

Today, Tendulkar took the responsibility again. He shielded Harbhajan Singh from Steyn, and asked him to go after the others. It worked. And in a strange show of outdoing MS Dhoni in terms of defensive captaincy, Smith spread out the fields. That was the only downer on a perfect day of Test cricket, but Tendulkar would have taken it any day. He started manoeuvring the strike, and soon even Harbhajan saw spread-out fields. The partnership bloomed, and Tendulkar got surer, better and more severe on loose deliveries. Even through those deep fields, Tendulkar found runs, hitting Harris for a six over long-off, driving Morkel through the covers, and cutting between the third man and deep point to take couples to retain strike.

If respect from the opponent were a yardstick to measure an effort, Tendulkar came out glowingly from his examination today. Even though on the field, Steyn had a verbal go at Tendulkar, and even though the series is now getting a bit ugly as it approaches its end, Steyn has this to say about Tendulkar's innings: "Sachin is a really good player. I have heard one or two guys remark about the speed and everything I have been bowling at, but he is such a good player, there is no point wasting your energy bowling at him. You tend to save your energy and tend to bowl at other guys. If you bowl a good bowl to him, or a No. 11 batter, it's going to remain a good ball. So it was a good contest going on."

Tendulkar's role in making today one of the best days of Test cricket in recent memory cannot be overstated. But for him, it would have been a much more memorable day for Steyn and South Africa, but we would not have been entertained as much as we were. If Rafael Nadal hadn't come around, we would have remembered Roger Federer's incredible shots, not his matches.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Harsh on January 7, 2011, 3:50 GMT

    Sachin Tendulkar's best effort in recent times against great pace bowling.Sachin battled like a tiger in the woods exhibiting his phenomenal temerament in all situations.Steyn's sustained fast bolwing was one of the fastest spells I have ever seen in South Afrrica in addition to superb use of seam and swing.It proves that the little genius can stand up agaisnt the best pace bolwing ,reminding you of the scraps betwen Dennis Lillee and Viv Richards.Tendulkar had his share of luck,with some decisons favouring him and almost getting out caught behind twice.

    Again a superb achievement for Sachin scoring 2 centuries at 78+i in his last series in South Africa-like winning an Olympic gold medal!

  • Clive on January 6, 2011, 3:46 GMT

    I am sorry that I was not there to witness this. My belief is that there is nothing like two exceptional players plying their trade on the cricket field. I have never seen Steyn bowling live but from reports he is top class. So, trying to pry out Sachin would have been reason to show that pedigree. CLASSIC indeed!!

  • Amol on January 6, 2011, 2:29 GMT

    @Beazle: Never wanted to give you any attention (you DON"T deserve), but could not resist...Do you know Sachin personally??? LOL.

  • Amol on January 6, 2011, 2:20 GMT

    AS on today (before today's play) the least average for Sachin outside of IND in any other country is 40.00 (in ZIM). And in swinging conditions in AUS, SA and ENG he averages 45.88, 58.33 and 62.00 respectively. In remaining other countries, he averages ***MORE THAN*** 49.00 except PAK (40.25), where cricket is almost impossible. I have no idea what other else stat is needed for Sachin to prove his greatness when some ignorants say that Sachin needs to come out of the bubble and his fans should coax him to do that or else he won't improve his oeverseas record. See now?? Now tell us, who is living in the bubble???

  • Sridher on January 6, 2011, 1:05 GMT

    Goodness me...heck lot of pokes at me...I'm not saying that Steyn is a bad bowler. He is the best bowler at the moment...but far from being all time great ...Sachin isn't great anymore and never has been great in Tests as I've been watching him his entire cricketing career apart from his counterparts...though he will be as great as anyone in no means he can be bestowed with greatness for his prolific scoring...just happens to be, he is getting used to scoring runs which makes him a mere run machine....coming to the match the way sachin played him makes Steyn unplayable...

  • Ankur on January 5, 2011, 20:26 GMT

    Tendulkar's inning on the 3rd day of the 3rd test match in ongoing series in an awesome display of batting skills. Equal praise for Dale Steyn for superb early morning spells. This match is going to be an an equal opportunity for both the teams.

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 19:11 GMT

    339 is a big total when they have only one day to chase,its a chance for SA to keep pressurize india from the start. He we have quality cricket from both teams..... c'mon SA..

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 18:36 GMT

    Dale Steyn would be in a very magnificent form tomorrow.If Indian team can get away with him tomorrow they would be able to save the match.

    Paul Harris may also do well in the Bowling, though surprisingly. Morne Morkel will also be performing well.

    Amongst Indian Batsmen Rahul Dravid,MS Dhoni and Sachin to play well.2nd Session not good for India as it wont suit Dhoni.

  • anser on January 5, 2011, 17:30 GMT

    Do not compare!! just enjoy cricket where these two greats are playing against each other!! they are just brilliant and it is stupid to say anything against them in my opinion....anser azim Chicago

  • Dummy4 on January 5, 2011, 17:28 GMT

    Guys, Lets not compare Kallis with Any one in the cricketing era. He is a wonderful cricketer any country will be proud of having in the team. He is consider one among the top list of the batsmans but his alrounder skills is not comparable with any one. SA always have a cushion of playing a bowler less when kallis is in the team. In test 12K runs, 270 Wkts and 166 catches in ODI 11K runs, 259 Wkts and 116 catches and at the current age (35) he is in his lifetime peak form. No one is going to emaculate kallis records in the near future. Best of Luck kallis for your future achivements. I would like to see you reaching 50+ Centuries very soon b/c you deserve it.

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