Centurion Test: India fight back, trail by 294 runs

Centurion: Virender Sehwag (63) and Gautam Gambhir (80) gave a solid start as India staged a spirited fightback after conceding a mammoth 484-run lead on the third day of the first cricket Test against South Africa here on Saturday.

After South Africa declared their first innings at an imposing 620 for four riding on Jacques Kallis` maiden unbeaten double century and A B De Villier`s record-breaking 129, India put up a better batting display to reach 190 for two in their second innings when the stumps were drawn, still trailing by 294 runs.

Rahul Dravid was batting on 28 from 48 balls while night-watchman Ishant Sharma was giving him company on seven to raise hopes of saving the game on a Super Sport Park pitch which has eased out considerably.

The good start given by openers Virender Sehwag (63) and Gambhir with a 137-run stand from just 29.3 overs should serve as a confidence booster for the other batsmen.

With two full days left in the match, the formidable Indian batsmen will have to bat out of their skin to fancy their chances of salvaging a draw in the series-opener.

Showing no signs of pressure, Sehwag and Gambhir sought to make amends for India`s batting debacle in the first innings though both were lucky to get a reprieve once.

Sehwag was let off when he was on 34 with a diving Hashim Amla spilling a difficult chance at short cover, Lonwabo Tsotsobe being the unlucky bowler. Gambhir was dropped by Alviro Petersen at cover region of the bowling of Dale Steyn when the Indian was on 35.

The day clearly belonged to the in-form De Villiers who smashed the fastest century by a South African, taking just 75 balls to complete his ton, and Kallis (201 not out) who notched up his maiden double century in his 143rd Test.

De Villers eclipsed the previous fastest record shared by Denis Lindsay, Jonty Rhodes and Shaun Pollock, who had taken 96 balls to score a century.

The Indian opening pair put on 137 runs before spinner Paul Harris plotted the dismissal of Sehwag to capture his 100th Test wicket.

Sehwag, who looked quite comfortable in the middle, went for a mighty heave but failed to get to the line of the ball and spooned a catch to South African captain Graeme Smith in the long off region.

Sehwag`s 63 came from 79 balls and was studded with nine fours and a six.

Gambhir seemed to be looking for his 10th Test century and first one on South African soil before he was done in by a Dale Steyn delivery which kept low without much bounce towards the end of the day.

Steyn angled his delivery from round the wicket and it kept a touch low after pitching at the off. It missed Gambhir`s bat and thudded into his pads to be plumbed in front of wicket. Gambhir`s 80 came from 124 balls and was studded with 10 fours.

Earlier, resuming at the overnight score of 366 for two, Amla (140) and Kallis continued from where they had left yesterday as they scored the runs at a brisk pace.

The two batsmen seemed to be in no discomfort at all as the Indians pacers S Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma tried to get the breakthrough with the second new ball.

Amla was the more aggressive of the two batsmen as he spanked both S Sreesanth and Ishant every time they erred in line and length.

It was Ishant who brought an end to the marathon 230-run partnership for the third wicket by evicting Amla, who played a rather poor shot.

Amla tried to flick a delivery going way down the leg side and only managed to edge it to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni behind the stump. Amla batted for 296 minutes, faced 202 balls and hit 14 boundaries and a six.

It was just the kind of luck India needed after being thoroughly outplayed on the first two days of the series-opener.

The in-form De Villiers, who joined the action after Amla`s dismissal, made his intentions clear by clobbering Ishant and debutant pacer Jaidev Unadkat to the boundary in quick succession.

Soon after the drinks break, De Villiers picked up Ishant for special treatment by smashing him for two successive boundaries. He first smacked it in front of covers and then eased it past mid off for the second boundary.

In the next over off Unadkat, De Villiers rocked back and punched the ball between mid-off and extra cover for another boundary. Not to be outdone, Kallis also hit the young bowler for a boundary.

There was no respite for the Indians after the lunch break also as both Kallis and De Villiers kept piling up the runs with ease.

Kallis notched up his maiden double century in Test cricket when he flicked Jaidev Unadkat to the fine leg boundary. He raised his bat to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd and his teammates in the dressing room after completing the milestone.

Dhoni kept rotating his bowlers but none of them had the sting to pose much problems for the South African batsmen.

Kallis and De Villiers put on a rollicking 224-run fourth wicket partnership before Ishant managed to separate them by accounting for the rampaging De Villiers.

De Villiers edged the ball to Dhoni behind the stump and Smith declared the innings immediately after his dismissal.

It was an extraordinary innings by De Villiers, who in his previous Test match scored a South African record 278 not out against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi last month.

Kallis remained unbeaten on 201, a knock which came off 270 balls and contained 15 boundaries and five sixes. His previous best score in Test cricket was 189 against Zimbabwe at Bulawayo in 2001.

For the Indians, paceman Ishant (2/120) and spinner Harbhajan Singh (2/169) were the two bowlers who got the wickets in an otherwise lacklustre bowling display.


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