First Test

South Africa v India, 2006

At Johannesburg, December 15, 16, 17, 18, 2006. India won by 123 runs. Toss: India.

In a stunning reversal, India achieved their first Test win in South Africa, and what some observers thought was their best-ever away win. Their hero was Sreesanth, the wild and wacky seamer from Kerala playing only his sixth Test, who started South Africa's collapse for 84 in their first innings with a maiden five-for. There was no eccentricity in Sreesanth's actual delivery, which arrived with pace, aggression and a vertical seam. He ended the game with eight for 99, the match award, and a fine of 20% of his match fee for giving Amla an unnecessary send-off after claiming his wicket for the second time.

Dravid's decision to bat first was almost recklessly brave, given that the start was delayed by 90 minutes because of dampness in the pitch. It was a baking hot and sunny morning, just as it had been for the three previous days, which was why Chris Scott, the head groundsman, had decided to water the pitch the previous evening, to prevent it from cracking prematurely. But he overdid it. The result was a hard pitch with a wet top, and so much seaming bounce that South Africa's bowlers didn't know what to do with it. The defiant first-day batting of Dravid and Tendulkar required every iota of their skill and experience, and their runs were worth double, at least. Ganguly's emotionally charged return after a year as a Test outcast resulted in an innings of huge heart and determination, during which he was peppered with bouncers, most of which he played with survival instincts rather than cricketing ones. But, when Ntini pitched one up, Ganguly slogged him over midwicket for six.

Their combined application meant that 205 for nine was competitive, and then last man Vikram Singh belted an amusing 29 to help boost the final total. Those watching realised that 249 was a good score, but no one knew quite how good. They soon found out. The South Africans had banged it in short, but Sreesanth pitched it up, full and straight, and was rewarded with five of the first seven wickets - two lbw, two caught at second slip, one bowled. At that stage, South Africa were 45 for seven, and the sense of disbelief, even among the Indians, was palpable. A slog from Nel helped raise the score to 84, but it made little difference to the level of shame felt by South Africa, whose total was their lowest, not just since readmission in 1991-92, but since England twice skittled them for 72 in 1956-57.

Twenty wickets tumbled on the second day, but as the pitch eased a little India had started to build on what had become a formidable lead. Laxman displayed the temperament of a scholar, ignoring the inevitable snorters which still came his way. Quietly grateful when these missed his bat or the stumps, he tucked singles away on the leg side and regarded each of his dozen fours as a great bonus in an innings of 73 as valuable as many centuries. He finally edged Ntini to slip, but the lead was then approaching the eventual 401, and the game was well beyond South Africa, whose only moment of satisfaction had come when Pollock's classic late away-swinger had Dravid caught behind. It made him the tenth bowler - but the first South African - to take 400 wickets in Test cricket.

Sreesanth again flattened the top order, taking three of the first four wickets, before Prince delayed the inevitable with an obdurate 97 from 223 balls. Pollock enjoyed the attacking fields, spanking a quick 40, but Dravid had another ace up his sleeve, one with more than 500 wickets to his name - and a spinner, too, something South Africa did not have. Kumble bought Pollock's wicket by tossing a couple of inviting deliveries up in the air and then castling him with a quicker one, before spoiling Prince's chance of a century by bowling him too, around his legs trying a sweep.

If there had been 20 stumps available as souvenirs, they wouldn't have been enough for India when the match ended. The party was long and loud. Bullied abroad for so long, India had fought back in triumph, and had done so by playing the bullies at their own game in their own back yard.

Man of the Match: S. Sreesanth.

© John Wisden & Co.