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Smith leads Proteas
03 Jan 2007
By: George Roberts

After cocooning himself from abuse from all corners of the media - not to mention all corners of the first day Newlands crowd - Graeme Smith hit back at his detractors with a fistful of his staple currency: runs. Together with Hashim Amla, another batsman who has suffered his fair amount of flak in the past few weeks, the South African captain bit back in a second wicket stand of 130, to take his side to 144-1 at the close on day two, 270 adrift of India's solid total.

Smith's intentions were clear from the first delivery of the innings, when he top-edged an ambitious hook shot off Zaheer Khan for six, and before long he was clattering the ball against the offside advertisement hoardings with increasing frequency. Yesterday's fears that the pitch would crumble quickly did not materialise, with Anil Kumble's legspin offering little cause for concern for the home fans.

Amla, with his Test position under considerable threat for the upcoming Pakistan series, was understandably nervy early on, but a chunk of Smith's ego appeared to rub off on him as he finished unbeaten with a second Test fifty to his name. Smith closed on 76, from 111 balls and with eleven fours and a six, and will surely be looking at a big hundred tomorrow.

Earlier, the overnight pairing of Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman resumed on 253-3 for India and initially appeared to be well placed to rack up a huge score and place South Africa under considerable pressure. However, Dale Steyn produced an unplayable outswinger that pinned Laxman to the crease before flattening his off stump, and the home side were back in the match.

Laxman's dismissal, for 13, announced the arrival of Sourav Ganguly, accompanied by a barrage of bouncers from the South African pace attack. Coming from his international exile on the slow, low Indian wickets, Ganguly has had to learn to walk again when dealing with the short delivery, and it certainly hasn't been a comfortable journey. Here he attempted to duck and fend off unconvincingly before an offside punch put him on his way.

At the other end, Tendulkar revealed glimpses of the quality that used to underline every stay of his at the crease. The wristy glances to leg returned, particularly when steering Paul Harris' left-arm spin out of the rough, but the shot of the day was a mouth-watering cover drive. Latching on to a full ball from Makhaya Ntini, Tendulkar lunged forward and effortlessly timed the ball to the fence - with no follow through as he held his pose cinematically. A series of sublime pushes back past the stumps followed, and it came as something as a shock when he edged Harris to slip for 64.

Virender Sehwag, in unusual territory at number seven, then reversed his run drought by thriving on the security of a strong position of 337-5. Where Tendulkar's shots had been succulent, palatable even, Sehwag's sizzled in the Cape Town sun. After hammering 40 from 49 balls, Sehwag was ideally placed to ram home India's advantage, but a miscued slog-sweep off Harris only picked out Ntini in the deep. The tail for once gave little resistance, with the last four wickets tumbling for just 19 - three of which were to Pollock, including that of Ganguly, last man out for 66. Pollock ended with 4-75 from 29.1 overs, while debutant Harris finished with the encouraging figures of 37-3-129-4.

Tomorrow, it seems, is the pivotal day. With the series tied at one-all, it is unlikely either side will want to yield too much ground or take any real risks: South Africa will not contemplate a loss at home to India; the tourists will be unwilling to throw away the hard work of the last few weeks. Ultimately, the outcome of the match could come down to Smith's performance - only he, one feels, has the determination and the gut to wrest anything from this match.

India 414 all out (131.1 overs)
Wasim Jaffer 116, Dinesh Karthik 63, Sachin Tendulkar 64, Sourav Ganguly 66
Shaun Pollock 4-75, Paul Harris 4-129

South Africa 144-1 (41 overs)
Graeme Smith 76*, Hashim Amla 50*

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