After the series against England, there were fears that South Africa's pace-dominated attack would struggle to make an impact on the Indian pitches. That assessment turned out to be completely off the mark on the third day in Nagpur, as Dale Steyn tore the Indian batting apart in a stunning display of fast bowling, taking his first seven-wicket haul in Tests. It was only the tenth instance
of an overseas fast bowler taking seven or more wickets in an innings in India. His display is also the second-best by a South African fast bowler in India - Lance Klusener had taken 8 for 64 in a matchwinning performance in Kolkata
As the pitch map indicates, Steyn's line and length were immaculate. He hardly ever strayed onto the pads of the Indian batsmen, constantly testing them in the corridor just outside off. Knowing that the Indians prefer to come onto the front foot and drive, he didn't give them too many full deliveries either, pitching it on a good length or slightly short. The line where he pitched it was just outside off, but with the ball moving both ways, none of the batsmen could let the ball go with any degree of confidence, as Murali Vijay and debutant Wriddhiman Saha found out. Virender Sehwag, the one bright spark in the Indian batting line-up, still managed to get Steyn away for 34 from 38 balls, but none of the others had much success.
In only his 37th Test, Steyn has already taken 13 five-fors, an excellent rate of one every 2.85 Tests. Among bowlers who started their careers after 1970 and have taken at least ten five-fors, only two have a higher rate of grabbing five in an innings. Muttiah Muralitharan and Richard Hadlee both averaged less than 2.5 Tests, but both had the advantage of playing in teams whose bowling attacks were otherwise quite ordinary.
Steyn's strike rate of 38.9 is the fourth-best in Test history
(with a cut-off of 2000 balls bowled), while his record against India is quite staggering too - an average of 16.62, with 29 wickets in less than six Tests.
For India, their jinx in home Tests against South Africa continued. They wilted for 233 in their first innings, which gave South Africa a first-innings lead of 325, the fourth-highest by any team against India in India in the last 25 years, and the highest in a match in which India has batted second. South Africa's 418-run lead in Ahmedabad
in 2008 is the highest, followed by England's 380-run lead in Chennai
in 1985, and Sri Lanka's 334-run lead in Ahmedabad
last year. India ended up saving that Test against Ahmedabad, but that line-up had included Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, and the conditions and the opposition bowling attack were far less hostile.
Besides, India's batting has traditionally struggled against South Africa at home, a fact best illustrated by Sachin Tendulkar's stats against them - in 15 home innings
before the current one, he hasn't scored a century, and averages half his career average. On Tuesday he has an opportunity to correct that anomaly, but if he and the rest of the batsmen don't turn it on, India are in danger of slumping to only their third innings defeat at home in the last 25 years. South Africa are the only team to have experienced that joy
during this period, and with the number one ranking up for grabs, another such win will suit the visitors perfectly.