CAPE TOWN: India failed to fully exploit the seaming conditions as South Africa recovered from two early jolts to reach 232 for four on the opening day and leave the crucial third cricket Test evenly poised on Sunday.
Put into bat in overcast conditions which suit seam bowlers, South Africa lost both openers quickly but relied on Jacques Kallis (81 batting) to guide them to a far more comfortable position at stumps on a rain-truncated day.
Ashwell Prince was giving Kallis company on 28 when the stumps were drawn after an extended final session at Newlands.
Having put South Africa into bat for the first time in the series, India would have been in a better position if they had taken a couple of more wickets as conditions would be favourable for batsmen in the remaining days.
South Africa were tottering at 34 for two at one stage but the experienced Kallis again thwarted India’s plans of ripping through the home side batting line-up by holding fort with a mix of caution and aggression. He hit 16 fours while facing 169 balls.
Kallis stitched three substantive partnerships, first with Hashim Amla (59) for 72 runs for the third wicket before stands of 58 and 68 runs for the fourth and unfinished fifth wickets with AB de Villiers (26) and Prince respectively.
The Indian pace trio of Zaheer Khan, S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma failed to capitalise on the favourable conditions as they could get just four wickets on a day which was overcast for most part with two rain-breaks.
Zaheer (1/62) was impressive in his first spell when he dismissed Smith for the 11th time in all formats of the game taken together but erred in line and length later by bowling overpitched deliveries and to the pads of the batsmen.
Sreesanth (2/70) was also not consistent in his line and length though he was the most successful bowler of the day, taking the crucial wickets of Amla and de Villiers.
Ishant (1/39) bowled within himself hitting the deck besides getting movement. Harbhajan Singh did not get much turn on the first day pitch but was able to contend the South African batsmen with figures of 0/55 from his 18 overs.
India began well with Zaheer removing South African captain Smith in the morning session which had only nine overs due to inclement weather.
Amla, who hit a nine fours and a six in his 80-ball stay, was at his element again after failing in the second Test in Durban. His counterattack saw South Africa score at a brisk pace though they lost two wickets, including that of Amla, in the second session to reach 125 for three at tea.
South Africa added 104 runs from 28 overs in the second session thanks to a 72-run third wicket partnership between Amla and Kallis after they reached 21 for one when early lunch was taken due to inclement weather.
Amla was looking good for a big innings as he played the Indian pace trio with a lot of conviction, especially after second rain break, before a poor shot off Sreesanth’s bowling did him in.
The hosts were in a tricky situation at 61 for two in 21 overs at the second rain break but Amla made his intentions clear as he clipped Zaheer for three boundaries. The senior India pacer was guilty of bowling juicy half volleys on Amla’s pads and got duly punished in the process.
When Sreesanth bowled outswingers, Amla drove through covers. When the temperamental Kerala speedster dug one short, Amla, South Africa’s most consistent batsmen over the last season, got into perfect position to pull-it over fine-leg for maximum to complete his 19th half century in Test cricket with the help of eight fours and a six.
However, Sreesanth had the last laugh when Amla fell for the bait going for another pull-shot. Cheteshwar Pujara was stationed at deep mid-wicket for this particular shot and he took a simple catch.
As play resumed post-lunch, Ishant Sharma got into the act as he got Alviro Petersen (21, 47 balls, 3×4) to drive on the up and the snick was taken easily Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stumps.
In the post tea-session, India could take only de Villiers’ wicket with a Sreesanth outswinger luring the batsman into the cover drive only to swing away late for Dhoni to catch the edge.
Earlier, Indian captain Dhoni finally found some luck going his way as far as the spin of coin is concerned.
Dhoni won the toss for the first time in the series and put South Africa on to bat as he wanted his bowlers to make full use of the overcast conditions.
Pace spearhead Zaheer moved the ball both ways during his five over-spell.
It was no surprise that Zaheer finally got his bunny Smith (6) once again trapping the Proteas skipper plumb in front.
The delivery held its line after pitching on the off-stump as Smith played thinking it to be an away swinger. The ball kept low and hit him on the back leg. This is the 11th time that Zaheer has dismissed Smith in all formats taken together.(PTI)