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India inch past South Africa

India 359 for 6 (Sehwag 88, Dravid 80) lead South Africa 305 by 54 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

An exhibition of batting had been expected on the third day. Instead, India set a pattern of excessive caution early on, and their laboured approach lulled the large Eden Gardens crowd into a stupor. Bursts of activity punctuated the dreary proceedings but, each time the contest appeared to come to life, the teams' limitations became more obvious - neither side had the resources to exploit the other's weaknesses. Only after India acquired the lead was the action sustained. They ended the day 54 runs ahead, on 359 for 6.

South Africa were disciplined, rather than lethal, in their approach and gave away only 230 runs in the day. But they lacked the bowlers to knock India over after the top order had gone. When VVS Laxman departed after securing the lead, South Africa were only three runs behind. However, the lower order once again put on a show of strength. Dinesh Karthik and Irfan Pathan began slowly, but steadily gained momentum to build India's lead.

Proceedings were largely controlled by the bowlers. They absorbed the impact of an early-morning assault - as Rahul Dravid pulled and pushed fours and Virender Sehwag struck a blow into the stands at long-on - and stuck to their task.

The story goes that when Ray Jennings, South Africa's new coach, was asked what his plan for Sehwag was, he jovially announced that it involved shooting him at the hotel. But the real plan - one that worked out - was rather more legal, and just as threatening. Makhaya Ntini, delivering from wide of the stumps, got one to bounce at Sehwag's face, and it looped off his glove to Graeme Smith, who ran in from first slip and took the catch (144 for 2).

Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar then displayed a lot of self-control. They set out to wear down South Africa's new-ball attack, before turning their attention to the back-up bowlers. As a result, the scoring came to a standstill for much of the morning, and a repeat of the dour batting that has plagued this series was on display once again. But the approach failed, for Tendulkar (20), rendered almost strokeless by his own restraint, pushed down the wrong line and dragged Zander de Bruyn into his stumps (189 for 3).

At the other end Dravid, past 50, cut loose for a brief while after lunch, and then inexplicably shut up shop again until he played yet another incoming delivery onto his stumps (238 for 4). Meanwhile, Sourav Ganguly did not potter around. He repeatedly attempted to pierce the off-side field, but a battery of fielders intercepted his searing strokes. When the bowlers strayed to leg, he pulled and edged them to the fence. He targeted Justin Ontong's loopy offerings, making room to drive through cover. But just as his innings began to flourish, it ended. de Bruyn pitched one outside leg which hit Ganguly's pad - also outside leg - and the ensuing appeal was upheld by Simon Taufel (267 for 5).

Laxman's dig was a ditty, and there were signs that his star was in the ascendancy. But after taking India ahead he perished to his own impertinence. After stroking sparkling boundaries, he cut an Ntini delivery that had pitched too far up, and presented Ontong with a simple catch at point (308 for 6). Gradually, the tide turned India's way.

Two days now remain, and the batting runs deep on both sides. A result is still possible, for the will to win remains evident. All we need is for that will to be backed by suitable firepower.

Rahul Bhatia is on the staff of Wisden Cricinfo.