India struggle on first day

In the run-up to this opening Test, there was much talk of a South African ‘pace battery’ and the problems they could wreak among the Indian batsmen. For once, the pundits have been proved right: on a shortened first day in Johannesburg, India faltered to 156-5, having surprisingly opted to bat first after the start was delayed due to damp patches on the wicket.

Once again, Indian wounds at the top of the order were exposed on foreign soil and after a tepid opening ten overs, the tourists soon found themselves two down, with Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer departing in the space of five balls. Jaffer’s lack of exposure to conditions outside the subcontinent was characterised by his dismissal – leg before offering no shot to Makhaya Ntini – before Sehwag fell victim to Shaun Pollock’s persevering accuracy.

14-2 was not the ideal situation for Sachin Tendulkar, playing in his first Test since returning from a shoulder injury, to walk in at, but after surviving some early shouts for lbw, he began to consolidate the Indian position. Detached from his naturally free-flowing strokeplay, Tendulkar entrenched himself, refusing to be retaliate to a salvo of bouncers from Ntini and Andre Nel. He and Rahul Dravid ground out a stand of 69 together, the tortoise-like pace only enlivened by a handful of smooth cover drives from Tendulkar.

However, just as India were picking themselves off the canvas, the Proteas pinned them back against the ropes. On 44, Tendulkar edged Jacques Kallis’ bustling medium pace to AB de Villier’s safe hands at second slip, but the knockout blow was to come shortly after with the pivotal dismissal of Dravid, also caught behind off Kallis, for a gritty 32.

Another man on the comeback trail, Sourav Ganguly’s reintroduction began uncomfortably when Nel gave him a fierce working over, including a painful crack to the shoulder, but he fought on undeterred to finish unbeaten on 14. VVS Laxman had looked confident for his 28, exhibiting his usual supple-wristed strokes through the leg side. Unfortunately for the tourists, he nicked a sharp delivery from Ntini to wicket-keeper Boucher to leave India 156 for five. The darkness had began to gather at The Wanderers for several overs, so it came as no surprise when the umpires offered Ganguly the light, other than for the fact that it coincided with Laxman’s dismissal: India can count themselves unlucky in that respect.

Ntini’s last-ball wicket gave him figures of 2-34, more than matched by Pollock’s miserly efforts of 12-7-14-1. For all his pace, bluster and eyeballing, Nel was less impressive, but it was the unlikely figure of Kallis who damaged India the most by removing Dravid and Tendulkar. There is, however, concern for Dale Steyn, the raw swing bowler, who pulled up with what appeared to be a thigh strain one delivery into his eleventh over.

India 156-5
Sachin Tendulkar 44
Makhaya Ntini 2-34, Jacques Kallis 2-37

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