Herschelle Gibbs played a lone hand at St George's Park on Friday, making 155 not out out of South Africa's 237 for five on the first day of the second Castle Lager/MTN Test match after India had asked the home team to bat first.

Gibbs, who has spent much of his career veering between the sublime and the ridiculous, scored his second century in as many Tests and the fifth of his career to keep India at bay after the conditions had persuaded Sourav Ganguly to bowl first upon winning the toss.

Whether this decision was prompted by a belief that his attack - two seamers and two spinners - might rout the South African batting on a green pitch and under a grey sky or more by a desire to keep his batsmen away from the home team's bowling is a moot point. Whatever the case, Gibbs held the South African innings together with another exhibition of his prodigious talent.

Since being involved in a dope-smoking incident during South Africa's tour of the Caribbean this year, Gibbs has undergone "life skills" training from, among others, former Springbok rugby captain Morne du Plessis. If the desired effect is to rid Gibbs of his unwanted rebel-without-a-clue reputation, then it seems to be working. He has seldom batted better and his form, since serving a six-month ban for his role in the Hansiegate affair, has grown ever more consistent.

His first three innings after the ban, against Sri Lanka, produced scores of 0, 1 and 8. Subsequently, however, one impressive innings has followed another. In all, Gibbs has scored 949 runs in 2001 at an average of 63.26 and established himself as one of the world's leading batsmen.

On Friday, as India will no doubt testify, he loaded the South African innings onto his back and carried it through the day with only occasional and sporadic assistance. But for Gibbs, Ganguly's decision would have looked inspired. Even with Gibbs, India did enough to share the honours on the first day of a Test they cannot afford to lose.

The tourists, almost self-evidently, are a seamer short of a properly-balanced attack in this match. For all that, Javagal Srinath bowled quite beautifully throughout the day and was full value for his three for 51 while the spinners, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh, did a good job in conditions far more suited to seam bowling.

Gibbs paid tribute to Srinath later, saying "he hardly bowled a bad ball all day".

South Africa lost Gary Kirsten, caught at second slip by VVS Laxman after Virender Sehwag had knocked the ball up at third slip, early on for 4 and then had Jacques Kallis bowled by Srinath just before lunch for 24.

Neil McKenzie made just 12 before he was comprehensively bowled by Harbhajan, played all around a full ball and then Boeta Dippenaar made a painstaking 29 as he and Gibbs added 105 for the fourth wicket.

Dippenaar is under pressure to keep his place in the Test team, a point underlined when Jacques Rudolph was added to the South African squad earlier in the week. He never quite settled on Friday, looking desperately uncomfortable at times and it is difficult to say how much good he did to his chances of touring Australia next month. At the same time, however, without his contribution, South African might have been in deep trouble on Friday afternoon and, if nothing else, he displayed an admirable determination to stick it out.

He was finally caught at the wicket off Ajit Agarkar for 29 made in 172 minutes and when Srinath had Lance Klusener caught at second slip for 9, South Africa were 230 for five.

Gibbs, however, was still there at the close after batting for 363 minutes during which time he his 21 fours and a six lifted effortlessly over square leg off Harbhajan. He has played quite magnificently and the fact that there is still some South African batting to come means that India have still some work to do on the second day.

And at least some of that will be to get rid off Gibbs.

"On a wicket like that you can either approach it in a negative or a positive fashion," he said afterwards. "And I decided to play positively. There wasn't a lot of pace or steep bounce in it and not as much sideways movement as we'd expected. There also wasn't much for the spinners on the first day. It will probably get a bit harder tomorrow and the ball should come on a bit more.

"But the way I've been playing for the past year or so, I'd like to keep playing like that whatever wicket we're playing on," he said.