Tendulkar and Steyn leave ‘Cape Town’ poised
Chayan Rastogi/Zeecric Bureau
Cape Town: Indian master batsman Sachin Tendulkar scored his 51st Test century and anchored a first innings lead of skimpy two runs after World’s current best Test bowler Dale Steyn took five wickets and decimated Indian middle-order to leave series deciding third Test well poised as Proteas ended day three at 52/2 here at Newlands.
South Africa made a good start in the second innings with Graeme Smith seeing off his predator Zaheer Khan before ‘Turbanator’ Harbhajan Singh stuck a double blow just before the close of play to dismiss Smith and night-watchman Paul Harris to limit hosts lead to 50 runs with eight wickets in kitty.
Both Smith (29) and Harris (0) were trapped in front of the wickets by Bhajji with similar deliveries as the bowler drew both batsman on backfoot to catch them off-guard with a ball that spunned from the rough outside off-stump.
The day three honours of the decider Test was pretty much shared between two greats of the contemporary era- Sachin Tendulkar who scored a hundred which will probably go down as one of the best of his glorious career and Dale Steyn who produced the spell of the series in the second session of the third day.
Tendulkar played a marathon knock of 146 runs from 314 balls and consolidated Indian first innings reply with first Gautam Gambhir and then with Harbhajan Singh to put on 76 runs for the seventh wicket as India folded up for 364 runs in first innings.
Steyn stuck horrors with a marvelous display of pace and swing as he destroyed Indian middle-order immediately after lunch by sending off Cheteshwar Pujara and skipper MS Dhoni in quick succession to ring danger bells in Indian camp early. Pujara was trapped plumb in front of the wicket of a cracking outswinger from Steyn while Dhoni nicked an away-moving delivery to second slip where Ashwell Prince made no mistake to pouch an easy chance.
The South African pace spearhead was arguably unplayable in his spell as he bent his back regularly to produce steep bounce and generated some gems including the one that crashed into Harbhajan’s off-stump without dislodging a bail.
Meanwhile, Tendulkar who is going through form of his life, stroked 12 boundaries and a six to complete his first century of the New Year and battled fiery pace and swing bowling for almost three sessions and started damage control by adding crucial 176 runs for the third wicket with Gautam Gambhir.
Tendulkar reached his mind-boggling 51st Test century by top-edging South African pace bowler Morne Morkel for a six over wicket-keeper’s head and then followed up the celebration with a cracking cover-drive for boundary.
Tendulkar then weathered the ‘Steyn storm’ with some luck and lot of gumption as he pounced on deliveries which offered him width to play his shots and showed immense faith in his ally Harbhajan who manufactured his own methods to counter the situation including a straight-slap for six over long-on boundary off Steyn.
The gritty Tendulkar innings came to an end after Harbhajan’s dismissal on 40 as the master batsman dragged an inswinger of Morkel on to his off-stump.
Earlier in the day, Gambhir played an eventful yet fighting knock but fell seven runs short of his hundred as India sailed past 200 runs in the furst session to give a fitting reply to South African first innings total of 362 runs.
The Delhi southpaw scored 13 boundaries and was dropped thrice during his knock but was finally caught on an individual score of 93 by wicket-keeper Mark Boucher of spinner Paul Harris to end his nervy stay on the crease.
After Gambhir’s dismissal, Indian middle-order mainstay VVS Laxman came to the crease but got unfortunately run-out when a powerful shot from Tendulkar hit bowler Paul Harris’ palm and broke non-striker stumps to find Laxman backing up too far and not in the crease.
Tendulkar, who resumed on overnight score of 49, stroked the third ball of the morning to gully region to complete his half-century and then slapped two boundaries off Dale Steyn to put South African captain Graeme Smith’s attacking tactics on backfoot.
Gambhir too batted carefully, dispatching Morne Morkel to two edgy boundaries, but was seldom beaten outside off-stump by the lanky bowler who bowled regularly in the right areas to trouble the left-hander.
Earlier on day two, India made 142/2 at stumps to restore the balance in the series deciding third and final cricket Test.
Gambhir slammed a fighting half-century, taking advantage of two dropped catches and repeatedly hopped and jumped to ride the bounce as he remained unbeaten on 65 when the stumps were drawn on day two.
Tendulkar, who came to crease after the fall of Rahul Dravid, batted cautiously with Gambhir as the duo added unbeaten 114 runs in 39.2 overs for the third wicket.