Zaheer, Harbhajan fightback; batsmen squander advantage in Durban (Roundup)

Monday, December 27, 2010

DURBAN - India fought back against South Africa through Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh’s fine spells, but the batsmen squandered the advantage, leaving the second Test delicately poised after two days of gruelling cricket between the world’s top two teams.

On an action-packed day, the bowlers ruled the roost, taking 18 wickets.

India, resuming at 183 for six, were bowled out after adding only 22 runs, before pace spearhead Zaheer and Harbhajan ran through South African batting, bowling out the hosts for 131 runs.

Having got a crucial lead of 74 runs, India were in with a great chance of avenging their humiliating defeat at Centurion and levelling the series. But the batting failed yet again and India were tottering at 92 for four in their second innings at stumps.

India were leading by 166 runs with V.V.S.Laxman (23) and Cheteshwar Pujara (10) battling against Dale Steyn (1-27) and Morne Morkel (1-17) when bad light stopped play.

It was a tad slower Lonwabo Tsotsobe (2-16), who did the damage in India’s second outing, taking the crucial wickets of Virender Sehwag (32) and Rahul Dravid (2).

Sehwag, who struck six fours in 31 balls, was looking dangerous and added 42 runs with Murali Vijay for the opening partnership. Sehwag, however threw his wicket trying to go after Tsotsobe’s wide delivery but managed only an outside edge.

Vijay, who was looking good, faced a steep bouncer from Morne Morkel, pooping up a catch to Hashim Amla at short leg while trying to fend it off.

Dravid,too, looked comfortable but drove a wide delivery and was caught behind.

Sachin Tendulkar (6) opened the face of the bat to steer the pace of Steyn, but AB de Villiers leapt for the catch at third slip.

The four wickets dampened India’s fightback earlier in the day. Pace spearhead Zaheer’s return made a big difference. The left-arm seamer, who missed out the first Test due to a hamstring injury, toiled hard to keep South Africa on the backfoot.

Zaheer bowled beautifully to pin down the South African openers. The left-hander got the ball to seam around. He did not have to wait long for the reward as South African captain Graeme Smith, who has often been at Zaheer’s receiving end, edged behind.

Zaheer then removed Alviro Peterson (24), who moved across, allowing the ball to hit his leg stump.

But Zaheer did not get good support from the other end, with both Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma lacking consistency in their line and length.

Amla and Jacques Kallis (10) added 30 runs and were looking good when India got the latter out with a stroke of luck. Kallis backed up far too ahead and Ishant got his fingertips to the straight shot from Amla that hit the wicket and found him out of his crease.

Sreesanth, who was bowling wayward till then, suddenly bowled an unplayable delivery that swung late to kiss the gloves of AB de Villiers and Dhoni gobbled an easy catch.

South Africa, who were struggling at 74 for four at lunch, folded up dramatically to lose their last six wickets for 35 runs in 20.4 overs, forcing an early tea.

After lunch it was Harbhajan and some fine catching from the visitors that triggered South Africa’s downfall.

Amla (33) was trapped in front as he attempted to sweep Harbhajan. Zaheer then cleaned up Ashwell Prince.

Dravid took a spectacular reflex catch diving to his left to remove Steyn. It was Dravid’s 200th catch and he tops the list of most catches held in a Test match. Pujara held another splendid bat-pad to get rid of Paul Harris. Harbhajan was the bowler on both occasions.

Harbhajan was again in the thick of action when he caught a Morne Morkel skier at third man after Ishant Sharma set-up the fast bowler with sharp bouncers.

Harbhajan picked the last man Tsotsobe, who was caught by Murali Vijay at mid-wicket.

Earlier, India were bowled out for 205. Overnight batsman Mahendra Singh Dhoni (35) scored 15 of those runs, including a six off Steyn, but perished in the deep while attempting another big hit.

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