1st Test

India v South Africa, 2010

At Jamtha, Nagpur, February 6-9, 2010. South Africa won by an innings and six runs. Toss: South Africa. Test debuts: S. Badrinath, W. P. Saha.


Dale Steyn celebrates one of his seven wickets, India v South Africa, 1st Test, Nagpur, 3rd day, February 8, 2010
Dale Steyn blew India away in a venomous display of reverse-swing © Associated Press
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Skill applied with patience often pays off in India, and South Africa showed these qualities in abundance in a memorable match for Amla and Steyn. Amla batted over 11 hours to compile the highest score for South Africa against India, beating de Villiers's 217 not out at Ahmedabad on the previous tour in April 2008. Steyn then ripped the heart out of India's batting in an astonishing spell on the way to career-best figures and South Africa's first ten-wicket haul in the subcontinent outside Bangladesh.

The match played out in front of disappointing crowds - Nagpur's new stadium is impressive, but unpopular with the locals as it is some way out of town. India were without Rahul Dravid (broken cheekbone), V. V. S. Laxman (finger) and Yuvraj Singh (wrist); when Rohit Sharma missed his Test debut after twisting an ankle in the warm-ups, reserve wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha had to play as a batsman alongside fellow new cap Subramanian Badrinath and the inexperienced Murali Vijay. India still made a useful start. Zaheer Khan took advantage of cool, cloudy conditions to remove Prince and Smith in successive overs during an opening spell of 6-4-2-2. The struggling Prince suffered a tough call, being caught off his arm-guard. With the umpire decision review system not being used for this series (the Indian board and the broadcasters were unable to reach agreement about the cost), there was no reprieve.

But if India thought they had their challengers on the run, Kallis quickly put them right as he breezed to a no-nonsense half-century, while Amla was solid. Kallis did not allow Harbhajan Singh to settle, hammering him for six and four with slog-sweeps from successive balls, and minutes later unveiled a sublime cover-drive for four. With Amla using his marvellous wrists to manipulate the ball all around the ground, Harbhajan failed to bowl a maiden on the first day. Leg-spinner Mishra had a nasty habit of bowling long-hops, Ishant Sharma failed to threaten, and India relied almost entirely on Zaheer.

Kallis soon completed a masterful hundred - out of South Africa's 149 for two. His 34th Test century put him joint third on the all-time list with Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara, behind only Ricky Ponting (39) and Tendulkar (then 45). Amla also reached three figures - his eighth hundred in Tests - ten overs before stumps, when South Africa were a commanding 291 for two.

They resumed cautiously, with the prospect of Kallis's first Test double-hundred dominating talk. But he remained comfortably the most prolific Test batsman without one when Harbhajan obtained extra bounce and turn, and a bat-pad catch looped to short leg. The catcher, Vijay, had failed to hold a similar chance six overs earlier when Amla, on 149, had come down the pitch to Harbhajan. Kallis may have missed his elusive milestone, but the innings was memorable: he came in at six for two against the world's top-ranked side and added 340 with Amla, South Africa's best stand for any wicket against India, and the fifth-highest in any Test in India. Later on, Amla also showed more flair, regularly coming down the pitch to the spinners and even reverse-sweeping.

De Villiers was similarly daring and reached 53 before Sehwag beat him in the air. Harbhajan claimed a second wicket when he trapped Duminy leg-before on the sweep, but Amla was remorseless, showing tremendous shot selection and powers of concentration. He extended his maiden Test double-century to 253 not out - stretched over 675 minutes, the second-longest innings for South Africa after the current Indian coach Gary Kirsten's 878-minute marathon against England at Durban in 1999-2000 - before Smith's declaration gave his bowlers four overs before stumps and two bites of the new ball.

India began briskly, but lost Gambhir to the seventh ball of the third day and Vijay three overs later. Vijay was undone by superb bowling by Steyn, who followed up several away-swingers with an in-ducker; the batsman shouldered arms and was bowled. Sehwag had played in typically carefree style, but the cheap loss of Tendulkar, to a killer away-swinger from Steyn, caused him to rein himself in, and he reached lunch with 63. Sehwag lifted the pace again in the afternoon, however, receiving valuable support from the debutant Badrinath, and achieved a rousing century from 134 balls - only to depart two overs later, managing to pick out deep cover during an erratic over from Parnell.

Badrinath completed a gritty fifty before tea, by which time India were 221 for four, but he and Dhoni fell in the first seven balls of the final session, opening the way for Steyn's sensational burst. Harris spun a delivery out of the leg-side rough to Dhoni, who padded up, and the ball bounced up off his body, on to the gloves and then off the bat to slip.

The ball had been changed shortly before tea, and Steyn found the replacement to his liking, reverse-swinging it back into the batsmen at venomous speed. India's first innings was wrapped up in just 7.4 overs after the interval, Steyn taking five for three in 22 deliveries to finish with seven for 51.

Smith consulted with his bowlers before enforcing the follow-on, but the decision was soon proved correct. Morkel, who had dismissed Gambhir in the first innings from around the wicket with a ball that nipped away, this time bowled him in the second over with one that jagged back in. A flurry of four fours from Sehwag was ended by a slip catch off Steyn, and India were still 259 behind going into the fourth day.

It took a top-class century from Tendulkar, his 46th in Tests, for thoughts of a fifth day even to be contemplated. It was the 100th time in his lengthy Test career that he had reached 50, and he was imperious square of the wicket on both sides. Neither Vijay nor Badrinath lasted long on the fourth morning, during which Harris frustrated the batsmen by bowling over the wicket and some distance outside leg stump. This line also accounted for Tendulkar, the over after he had achieved his hundred; he missed a sweep and the ball hit him on the pad, ran up his leg and was then dragged back on to the stumps by his arms. Harris had the good grace to call the dismissal "unplanned".

Harris did deserve credit, though, for Dhoni's wicket, caught bat-pad, and he should have had Saha before that, when a rebound off his bat to silly point went undetected. Busy innings from Harbhajan and Zaheer complemented Saha's defiance - he batted for two and a half hours to make up for a first-innings duck - and took India past 300, but the final say went once again to Steyn, whose rapid inswingers quickly accounted for Saha and Mishra when he returned to the attack late in the day.

Man of the Match: H. M. Amla.

Close of play: First day, South Africa 291-2 (Amla 115, Kallis 159); Second day, India 25-0 (Gambhir 12, Sehwag 9); Third day, India 66-2 (Vijay 27, Tendulkar 15).

© John Wisden & Co.