CENTURION, South Africa, (Reuters) – South Africa’s Morne Morkel claimed four for 20 as he and Dale Steyn tore through India to leave the top-ranked nation 136 for nine at the end of the first day of the first test yesterday.
India were not up to the challenge after being sent in to bat on a lively Centurion pitch.
After inching their way to 55 for three at tea, the tourists lost six wickets for 81 runs in the final session of a day reduced to 38.1 overs by bad weather.
Steyn, the world’s number one bowler, finished with 3-34 from 10 overs.
He sparked the collapse after tea when he bowled VVS Laxman for seven with a trademark late away-swinger.
Suresh Raina (1) was caught in the slips off Jacques Kallis five balls later and Steyn then snared the crucial wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, trapping him leg-before for 36 as India found themselves on 71 for six.
India captain MS Dhoni gritted it out until the close to reach 33 not out, while Harbhajan Singh, who spent most of his time outside leg stump against the quick bowlers, scored a cavalier 27 before being caught short of his ground as wicketkeeper Mark Boucher threw down the stumps unsighted, flicking the ball between his legs.
Morkel then returned to the attack and had Ishant Sharma caught in the slips and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth at mid-off, both tailenders failing to score.
Debutant Jaidev Unadkat was at the crease on one not out when bad light stopped play in what would have been the final over of the day.
Dhoni and Harbhajan hit three sixes between them as India counter-attacked against South Africa’s third seamer, Lonwabo Tsotsobe, who conceded 50 runs in nine overs.
Morkel, the six-foot-five paceman, flummoxed the Indian batsmen in his 12.1 overs with a mix of short-pitched balls and fuller-length deliveries that moved off the seam.
“It’s most important for a fast bowler that you don’t forget your aggression — give the batsmen a bit of chin music, as they say, and it was nice to see the ball fly through,” he told reporters.
“For the batsmen, all the build-up about how the pitch will play is in the back of the mind and they’re not sure whether to play back or forward. We were able to find the right lengths to create that doubt.
“My strength is using my bounce. I don’t get a lot of swing, but I also tried to bowl back-of-a-length and the batsmen were tentative, not knowing whether to play back or come forward.”
The start of play was held up until 10 minutes before the scheduled tea break due to heavy morning rain. South African captain Graeme Smith won the toss and elected to bowl first.
Indian opener Virender Sehwag fell for a duck in the third over of the day as an outlandish swish outside off stump at Steyn was edged to third man, where Hashim Amla was perfectly positioned to take the catch.
“It was a very nice feeling to get Sehwag out early because he is a danger man,” Morkel said. “We thought a lot about how to bowl to him, because he has hurt us in the past and can quickly take the game away from you.
“We did the job up front with the new ball and luckily Sehwag gave it away. We definitely had a plan set for him, we knew if we were patient and hit the right areas, he would give it away.”
Gautam Gambhir crawled his way to five runs from 43 balls in more than an hour before he edged Morkel to first slip.
The wicket of Rahul Dravid (14) also came before the tea break, when Morkel trapped him in front with a delivery that jagged back and kept a shade low.
South Africa will become number one in the International Cricket Council test rankings if they win the three-match series 3-0.
India first innings
G. Gambhir c Harris b Morkel 5
V. Sehwag c Amla b Steyn 0
R. Dravid lbw b Morkel 14
S. Tendulkar lbw b Steyn 36
V. Laxman b Steyn 7
S. Raina c Prince b Kallis 1
M. Dhoni not out 33
Harbhajan Singh run out 27
Ishant Sharma c Kallis b Morkel 0
S. Sreesanth c Steyn b Morkel 0
J. Unadkat not out 1
Extras (lb-6, w-3, nb-3) 12
Total (nine wickets; 38.1 overs) 136
Fall of wickets: 1-1 2-24 3-27 4-66 5-67 6-71 7-110 8-110 9-116.
Bowling: Steyn 10-1-34-3 (w1), Morkel 12.1-5-20-4 (nb3), Tsotsobe 9-2-50-0 (w1), Kallis 6-1-20-1 (w1), Harris 1-0-6-0.