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Jaffer's hundred puts India in control

Stumps India 254 for 3 (Jaffer 116, Karthik 63) v South Africa
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
How they were out

Starts rarely come as emphatic as this, especially with India overseas and even more so in a series decider. Rahul Dravid presented his batsmen a New Year's gift by calling tails at the toss, provided South Africa with a surprise opening pair and sat back to enjoy India's best start in this country.

Wasim Jaffer led the merriment on a bone-dry Newlands pitch, steering India to an imposing 254 for 3 at stumps in a largely one-sided contest. It was an indicator of Indian dominance that his partnership with Dinesh Karthik has been the only century opening stand by any country against South Africa in two years. Andre Nel's absence, owing to a bruised ankle, hurt South Africa and they didn't have much to cheer in a venue that is traditionally proved to be a fortress.

It was a surface tailor-made for Jaffer, similar to the pancake-flat surfaces that he thrives on in domestic games back home. His third Test hundred, and first in the first innings, was a superbly-controlled affair, driving and pulling with authority. He gauged the nature of the pitch soon and reeled off regal strokes when presented with width.

His back-foot expertise came to the fore, especially as the bowlers were unable to extract much lateral movement, and he rolled his wrists over the ball while attempting the pull. Confident defense was interspersed with smooth wristwork and, barring a couple of jaffas that beat the outside edge, he was totally in command. His only indiscretion came when he was on 116, hanging his bat limply and edging head-high to give Jacques Kallis, at second slip, his 100th victim.

His partner was the surprise package. India decided to move Virender Sehwag down the order but instead of bringing in Gautam Gambhir, the specialist, went for Karthik, who last turned out for India in September 2005. Mahendra Singh Dhoni was ill disposed with a chest infection and bruised fingers, and Karthik was asked to open for the first time in Tests.

He enjoyed a large slice of fortune when on 32 - Graeme Smith fluffed a regulation edge at first slip - and occasionally resorted to the airy-fairy but he more than impressed with his compact technique. He got behind the line nicely and struck a gorgeous straight drive to welcome back Kallis to the bowling crease. He endured a nervy last over before tea, when Kallis targetted him with a bouncer barrage, but completed his second half-century in 14 innings. He was unlucky to be given out soon after tea, handing left-arm spinner Paul Harris with his maiden wicket, but he'd done a fine job by then.

Dale Steyn and Makhaya Ntini, South Africa's new-ball pair, couldn't summon much life from the flat pitch and it was left to the accurate Shaun Pollock to provide some respite. He produced more movement than the rest and even managed to get the edge, only to be frustrated by Smith's butterfingers at first slip. Pollock's spell to Dravid, who was looking ominous in his brief stay, was a masterclass in prising out a wicket. He frustrated him with a nagging line, managed some reverse with the old ball before nailing him with a near-perfect delivery that pitched outside off and kissed the edge.

Steyn came back to remove Jaffer with the new ball but Sachin Tendulkar, unfurling some gorgeous strokes towards the end, and VVS Laxman, cautiously shouldering arms, took India safely to stumps. Exactly three years ago, in a series decider at Sydney, Sourav Ganguly won the toss on a belter of a pitch and had the satisfaction of seeing his batsmen ending the opening day on 284 for 3. Is history about to repeat itself?

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo

Short cuts
Dileep Premachandran in Cape Town

Highlight of the day: After that pull shot at Kingsmead, Wasim Jaffer had a lot to prove, most of all to himself. And on a pitch that could have been prepared in Mumbai or Nagpur, he did just that with a fluent century, building on a circumspect start with some gorgeous drives on both sides of the wicket.

Lowlight of the day: For two sessions, this was a triumphant return to Test cricket for Dinesh Karthik. But when the first ball after tea appeared to fly off the pad to silly point, his luck took a turn for the worse. Hashim Amla, who grabbed the ball, didn't even bother to appeal, lobbing the ball back to Mark Boucher in an attempt to catch Karthik short of the crease. But with Boucher backing up Paul Harris's fervent appeal, Asad Rauf lifted the finger. Not the best of decisions, and certainly no way to end such a brave innings.

Shot of the day: The first session had been all about patience and consolidation, but soon after lunch, Karthik drove an over-pitched delivery from Makhaya Ntini past the mid-off fielder with a fluent swing of the bat. It was a glorious, breath-stopping stroke, from a man who clearly believed that he belonged at this level.

Ball of the day: When Rahul Dravid came in and set about Dale Steyn, the game appeared to be running away from South Africa. It needed another relentlessly accurate spell from Shaun Pollock to rein it back, and he crowned it with the big wicket - Dravid nibbling at one that pitched just outside off stump and held its line.

Catch of the day: Late in the day, with the evening sun beating down, Jaffer poked at one from Steyn. It flew off the edge, and Jacques Kallis stuck his hands in front of his face while moving to his right at second slip. Stunning reflexes from such a big man, and a fine way to bring up 100 catches in Tests.

Message of the day: With the stump microphone audio available in another soundproof press box, all the chirping could be heard. Mark Boucher led the way with his exhortations, but it was Graeme Smith's voice that was most distinctive. "He's tired, boys, he's done his bit for the team," he shouted out, even as Paul Harris pitched into the rough outside off stump. Wasim Jaffer said not a word, but after one delivery had escaped for four byes, he paddle-swept another for four more. Cue momentary silence.

Off the park: Even after bowling 18 wicket-less overs in the day, Ntini's spirit was unbroken. Soon after close of play, he came down from the dressing room and signed dozens of autographs for the waiting fans - all with that trademark goofy grin on his face. A touch of class, in a sport that's getting more and more distanced from its fans and roots.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo