Kolkata, Nov. 30 (NNN): India cricket team was establishing a handy lead over visiting South Africa when bad light brought an early end to the third day's play of the second Test at the Eden Gardens here on Tuesday.
Virender Sehwag went for 88 in the morning, and Rahul Dravid also had a ton in sight before falling for 80.
Makhaya Ntini was the most impressive of the visiting attack with 2-85.
Resuming the day on 129-1, India added only 15 runs before Sehwag was caught in gully off a brutish short ball from Ntini.
Sachin Tendulkar's indifferent run of form continued when he misjudged an off-drive and played Zander de Bruyn (2-32) onto his stumps for 20, leaving India 198-3 at lunch.
Dravid, 33 overnight, doubled his boundary tally to eight and was looking sharp but he was one of two batsmen to fall in the afternoon, bowled by Andrew Hall off an inside edge.
Skipper Sourav Ganguly was the other, dubiously given out lbw to de Bruyn for 40 despite the ball pitching outside leg-stump and possibly not hitting the stumps.
VVS Laxman did not look entirely comfortable at the crease, and on 38 he drove loosely at Ntini and was caught by Justin Ontong at point.
India were just three runs ahead at that point, and it spoke volumes for the competitiveness of South Africa that India's best partnership of the day was left to the seventh wicket.
Both Karthik and Pathan were supremely watchful, and they will look to reap the rewards on day four.
On Tuesday, India's batsmen turned in an uninspired performance. Only 230 runs were scored during the day, when India should have driven home the advantage given by Virender Sehwag with some attacking cricket. Once Sehwag went early, the other batsmen struggled to come to terms with the pace of the wicket.
South Africa struck a crucial blow early in the morning when they got the wicket of Viredner Sehwag.
Most teams have realized that if there is one batsman in the Indian team who makes a difference between victory and defeat it is Sehwag. The pace at which he scores the bulk of his runs makes it very difficult for the opposition to get back into the game.
However, one of the major weaknesses in Sehwag's game is the manner in which he handles the short ball. The eyes look away, the head is turned away from the ball and his general mannerisms suggests he is uncomfortable.
From the first ball of the morning, the visitors adopted a line of attack that was short and fast and into Sehwag. For a while he resisted the urge and quietly ducked the bouncers. But then one delivery from Ntini surprised him. It rose at a steep angle and a lot more than he expected. A surprised Sehwag could only fend at it. The ball clipped the glove and popped up to Graeme Smith at first slip. (144 for 2)
Sehwag scored 88 off 118 balls and his only scoring shot of the morning was a straight six off Shaun Pollock. But even though he was dismissed, the stage was set for the rest of the batsmen to follow. 144 for the loss of two wickets is exactly the kind of platform that a batsman like Sachin Tendulkar needs to launch a counter-attack; at least, that's what we all thought.
Early in his career, Tendulkar would often come to the crease with India having lost a few quick wickets, and instead of trying to settle down he would turn tables on the opposition by attacking. India needed him to do exactly that. But Dravid, who reached his 35th half-century in Test cricket, and he put on an excruciatingly slow partnership worth 45 in 18.3 overs.
One could feel that the South Africans were happy with the way things were proceeding. All they had to do was keep the ball outside the off-stump as the two batsmen were not going to even try playing a shot. Tendulkar, in many ways, got himself out. Having started off in the defensive mould, he found it difficult to break out of it. The ball pitched outside the off-stump and angled in, Tendulkar (20 off 54) shaped up for the drive. The ball was well away from his body and the inside edge sent it crashing into the stumps. (189 for 3)
Zander De Bruyn got the wicket; he did a superb job for the South Africans during the session and had figures of 10-3-12-1.
Sourav Ganguly came out and played a few overs before lunch was called. At the break, India were 198 for 3, with Ganguly on seven and Rahul Dravid on 67. Only 69 runs were scored in 28.2 overs for the loss of two wickets.
The Indian batsmen looked comfortable after lunch but they never really tried to force the pace. Dravid and Ganguly took their time getting set again and, inadvertently, handed the South Africans a golden opportunity to get back into the game.
In 21.2 overs, Ganguly and Dravid put on only 49 runs. It wasn't that the South Africans were bowling exceptionally well; it was just that the batsmen were not prepared to take the attack to the bowlers. Dravid was eventually dismissed by Andrew Hall. The ball was slightly short and came back in after pitching outside the off-stump. Dravid tried to glide it down to third man but, as it happened so many times in the recent past, the ball clipped the inside edge and crashed into the stumps. (238 for 4)
The right-hander scored 80 off 247 balls, inclusive of eight boundaries. A few overs later, Ganguly, on 30, was dropped by Jacques Rudolph at short cover but the Indian skipper did not make the visitors pay for the lapse. After adding just 10 runs more to the total, he was given out leg-before to De Bruyn. The ball pitched outside the leg-stump and looked to be clearly missing the stumps but umpire Simon Taufel thought otherwise. (267 for 5)
India still trailed South Africa by 38 runs. It was now left to V V S Laxman to marshal the tail and ensure that India have a sizeable lead. The run-rate was still below three and the hosts needed to get that up as well.
Laxman was joined by Dinesh Karthik in the middle and the duo put on some quick runs in the few overs before tea.
At tea, India had reached 293 for 5, with Laxman unbeaten on 25, off 59 balls, and Karthik on 13, off 15, inclusive of two fours. Even though 97 overs have been bowled in the innings, South Africa are yet to take the new ball.
India crawled towards the South African total of 305 and continued in the same vein thereafter. Anyone watching the match would have been baffled by the home side's approach. The pitch wasn't doing much, the South Africans were bowling tidily enough but there was no venom in the attack. If India really wanted to go for a victory they needed to attack.
The visitors continued to bowl with the old ball, which was softer and did not make stroke-play easy.
Laxman and Karthik took the score past the South African total before Justin Ontong, snapped up the former at point off Ntini. (308 for 6) Laxman scored 39 off 85 balls but his approach was like the other batsmen --block, block, then go for the odd shot.
Irfan Pathan joined Karthik at the wicket but the cricket the duo played was senseless. The Indians should have been looking to drive home the advantage; instead, they played like a side that was trying to save a match.
Karthik, 35, played a few shots as did Pathan, 21, but it must be said that there was not enough positive intent from all the batsmen with the exception of Sehwag.
When bad light stopped play early, India had scored 359 for six; a lead of 54 runs. In the 28-over session, India scored only 66 runs and lost the wicket of Laxman. India scored 230 runs during the day and allowed the South Africans back into the game. South Africa bowled well and to their field but that is no excuse for the Indians.
* Brief Scores: = South Africa 305 All Out = India 359 for six 6
* The Two Teams:
India: Sourav Ganguly (captain), Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir,Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Venkatsai Laxman, Dinesh Karthik,Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh, Irfan Pathan, Zaheer Khan.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (captain), Andrew Hall, Hashim Amla, Jacques Kallis, Jacques Rudolph, Boeta Dippenaar, Zander de Bruyn,Shaun Pollock, Justin Ontong, Thami Tsolekile, Makhaya Ntini.
* Umpires: Daryl Harper, Simon Taufel.
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