Watching Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan scythe through South Africa's batting was as surreal as watching a condemned gladiator dismember a pride of lions with his bare hands. Having witnessed debacles such as the 66 all out at Kingsmead 10 years ago, you had to keep pinching yourself to believe that it was the Indians who were dishing it out, and South Africa on the receiving end. Sreesanth was sensational, doing everything that South Africa's opening bowlers failed to do yesterday, using a superb wrist position to hit the seam with unerring regularity.
Zaheer did his bit with the crucial wicket of Herschelle Gibbs, a superb catch from Virender Sehwag, and a brute of a delivery that sent AB de Villiers on his way, but the passage of play after lunch was all about the eccentric from central Kerala. After the tour game at Potchefstroom, where Sreesanth had riled the Rest of South Africa side with some inane chatter, Jacques Rudolph had said: "Hopefully, he can back it up in the Test matches with the ball in hand, and not necessarily his mouth." Luckily Rudolph wasn't around to find out.
Before the Test started, all the talk was of South Africa's young pace sensation, Dale Steyn. It went unnoticed that Sreesanth was even less experienced, having played just five Tests over the past year. And in Jamaica, where he got Brian Lara with a magnificent delivery that reared off a good length, he had shown hints that he might just be in for the long haul.
As the wickets continued to fall in the afternoon, we kept asking each other: Have you ever seen anything like this? Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad had been outstanding on a couple of overseas tours, but neither had shredded a side away from home in such a manner. Ravi Shastri, away from commentary duty, watched admiringly as Sreesanth went about his business, and talked of how a spell in Mohali had convinced him.
"It was the game against Australia. We lost badly, but he came back and bowled a beautiful second spell. That was enough to tell you that you just had to pick this guy for overseas Tests, and even games in India. There's nothing like bowling the right length and hitting the seam. And his wrist position is such that he'll always get reverse swing too."
No reverse was needed today, with South Africa capitulating in just 25.1 overs. VRV Singh barely got warmed up, and Anil Kumble got just two overs. It was astonishing to watch, a revelatory experience beyond those witnessed at Adelaide and Multan. It's now upto the Indians to ensure that the result is also the same.
On the eve of the Test, Mickey Arthur had spoken with more than a hint of cockiness about how the curators had been asked to prepare pitches that had plenty of pace and bounce. Famous last words?