The third day of the South Africa-India Test belonged to two people - Dale Steyn and Virender Sehwag. Not since I saw Malcolm Marshall in 1984 have I seen such a sustained spell of aggressive pace bowling on Indian soil. But Steyn reminds me more of Kapil Dev because his stock ball is the one that goes away, the harder to bowl outswinger. Steyn has a long-ish run-up that builds up in pace, an easy action but some of the fastest hands in the business. After his jump his arms swing faster than his run-up suggests and the length of the ball is one that invites batsmen to lean forward and drive. A brilliant ball like that got Sachin Tendulkar to lean forward, slightly off-balance, and the movement did the rest. But Murali Vijay and Wriddhiman Saha, in particular, and other Indian batsmen barring Viru, in general, were tentative about stepping forward because of the 90mph pace and instead shouldered arms or prodded awkwardly and paid the price for their diffidence.
Virender Sehwag, in the first innings, played Steyn with respect and yet managed to take 34 runs off just 38 balls. The man belongs on a different planet and (honestly speaking) does not deserve to be linked with a couple of the batsmen that follow him in the line-up. Time after time the man spreads the field, raises the scoring rate, demoralizes the bowlers and fielders only to watch the batsmen that follow give the initiative right back. Sehwag must spend a lot of time in the dressing room seething at the batsmen out in the middle. If the first innings was vintage Sehwag, the second innings was vintage Seh-whack. He sensed, very accurately, that pushing the SAffers on the backfoot was the best way to go about it. Unfortunately for him, his precision in choosing which balls to attack deserted him. He walked off looking extremely angry with himself and rightfully so. The one man who could send the SAffers running for cover was out and, with it, any realistic chance of winning the Test match went down the drain.
SRT and Murali Vijay played well together, until about 10-15 overs were left for the close of play. In the last 10 overs they scored just 13 runs, a whooping three of which were scored off the last ball of the day. These are dangerous signs for anyone who has (horrid) memories of Tendulkar's propensity to imitate a tortoise when a match needs to be saved.
There are two ways in which this match can be saved by India - batting for 180 overs and not losing another 8 wickets or batting at about 3.5-4 runs per over for the entire day on Day 4. Doing that ensures that the SAffers will go on the defensive as they do not want to face the prospect of having to survive 50 overs on Day 5 with a target of about 150-200 to chase. Sadly, I do not see the second option materializing.
Here's a chance for SRT to do a Gambhir and bat India to safety. He has two whole days to gorge on a wicket where once the initial playing-in phase is over with, the rest is up to the batsman. And yes, I am well aware of what Steyn did with the old ball on day 3.
Tangent: I usually agree with Prem Panicker's cricket-related assessment but he flummoxed me today. On his blog, this is what he had to say about the bigger picture regarding the Test match (all emphases mine):
It may not seem like it at the time, but this series is already proving to be a blessing – we can finally put our sense of notional superiority aside and find out exactly where we stand in terms of being a high quality Test side, and start work on building the sort of team that doesn’t require a buffet of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to climb ranking ladders.
One of the respondents on the blog best explained my thoughts on that aspect:
Manish 'worma' said, on February 8, 2010 at 5:20 PM
Your (Prem Panicker's) post gives the impression that we got to the top beating mostly BD and SL!!!!!!
We got to top rank during SL series (before BD series had even started)…and our past few series had been NZ, SL, Aus, SA, Aus, Eng, SA.
We hadn’t even played BD for a long time. And even SL was a tough one (we actually lost that series…and not many teams have gone there and won!)
I don’t see any reason for you to pull us down. By this measure, look at the comprehensive defeat that SA were handed in 2nd test against Eng.
Or look at the home series loss that both SA and Aus had against each other.
Point being. We are amongst the best. And rightly so. Doesn’t mean we cannot be beaten by other sides, esp the other two top sides. (although its been 6 tests since an Aus side beat us!!!!!!!)
And one more thing. This India batting lineup was the equivalent of removing Kallis, AB/Amla and JP from SA lineup. So, if we still manage to fight (and there is still life left in this game) I would not be too disturbed.
Only negative in this game so far, for me, has been Gambhir. He should have done better at least in one innings, given his recent test form.