India in SA
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Thinned SA attack needs guts
Cape Town – The chances of India at least avoiding defeat for the first time in a Test series in South Africa appear to be strengthening.
With three full days remaining in the decisive third encounter at Newlands here, all results options remain extremely feasible, but a few factors are just beginning to conspire gently to suggest it will be hard for the Proteas to complete the essential “20 wickets job” on the tourists.
In plain scoreboard terms after the second day, India are in a competitive position, 220 runs adrift of South Africa on the first innings with eight wickets in hand.
An unbroken century third-wicket stand between opener Gautam Gambhir and that evergreen genius Sachin Tendulkar checked the hitherto encouraging progress of Graeme Smith’s team on Monday afternoon.
The Proteas might have been feeling a whole lot heartier at stumps had a leaping AB de Villiers held onto a sharp catch offering by Gambhir off Lonwabo Tsotsobe (who bowled with fine perseverance and control but wretched luck) 20 minutes before the close – it might well have necessitated a night watchman by the Indians, and all the potential that would have presented for another scalp in the lengthening shadows.
Instead India will wish the Gambhir-Tendulkar alliance to flourish still further on Tuesday, even to the point that they are able to contemplate the possibility of securing an influential lead on the first knock.
Much cricket has to be played before that happens, but the portents are pretty good from their point of view: the pitch is beginning to free itself now of its early, weather-induced serpents and recent history at the ground suggests that the middle phase of Tests there is a wonderful time to cash in on the batting front.
Also not helping the Proteas’ cause, perhaps, is the expectation of at least two days of challenging temperatures in the vicinity of 30 deg C – not only would they flatten out the pitch at a rate of knots, but also test the stamina levels of the home attack to the full.
And that bowling lineup, it was confirmed after Monday’s close, will be without its intended fourth seamer in Jacques Kallis, the century-making hero who aggravated a chest injury while at the crease and can operate as a batsman only -- if required -- for the remainder of the contest.
Dr Mohammed Moosajee, the team manager, confirmed at the post-play press conference that Kallis had taken a blow to the right side of his chest during his typically gritty innings of 161 and suffered contusion to the rib area and muscular strain.
“A recovery time of two weeks (is expected) ... if he aggravates it, it could stretch to four.”
Kallis himself admitted that the pitch “got a little easier as the sun baked down on it”.
But, perhaps wishing to give his now-weakened bowling colleagues a fillip for day three, he added: “There’s still more than enough in it. Some balls were going well off the straight and narrow even just before (the close).
“The ball generally does more in the morning at Newlands so we’ll be hoping to get some wickets then. Two or three could put India on the back foot.
“I like to think we’re still in charge.”
India’s main first-innings wicket-taker, Sree Sreesanth, on the other hand, did his best to gee up his team’s batsmen: “(The pitch) has slowed down, for sure ... more of a tennis-ball bounce now.
“If it wasn’t for the Rahul Dravid run-out we might only be one wicket down.”
Clearly a big test of resolve faces the Proteas bowlers as they strive to make deeper inroads into the Indian first innings as quickly as possible.
Dale Steyn seemed a little down on pace on Monday, arguably suggesting that his ongoing burden as the chief scalp-hunter can take a toll at times, Morne Morkel could also do with greater fire and better direction, while left-arm spinner Paul Harris is going to have to do more than simply be the proverbial containing “wheelie bin”, you would think.
Does the bowling quartet have the bottle, against some mounting odds? Tuesday may just be a critical gauge ...