Sachin Tendulkar notched up his fourth consecutive Test ton and Virender Sehwag cracked 165 as India relied on the sheer class of the experienced duo to take control of the second and final cricket Test against South Africa here on Monday.
After polishing off South Africa’s first innings at 296, the hosts rode on Tendulkar’s 47th ton and Sehwag’s 19th century to reach 342 for five at close on the second day, which saw the home team lose three key wickets in quick succession at the fag end.
At stumps on an eventful day, VVS Laxman (9) and night watchman Amit Mishra (1) were at the crease with India having taken a lead of 46 runs. They will now look to take a substantial first innings lead and push to level the series 1-1 in the remaining three days.
The vociferous crowd at the Eden Gardens was treated to a stunning exhibition of strokeplay by the two Indian masters as they put on a 249-run partnership for the third-wicket to torment the South Africans, who need to win the match to dislodge India from the number one position in the Test rankings.
But both Sehwag and Tendulkar (106) fell at the fag end of the day along with S Badrinath to allow the visitors to claw back into the game to some extent.
Sehwag and Tendulkar, who unleashed some exquisite shots, appeared to be in no discomfort at all against the South Africans who did every thing to break the partnership without much luck till the very end of the day.
With the partnership taking gigantic proportions, South Africa’s spinner Paul Harris mainly bowled a negative line outside the leg stump to dry up the runs.
It was Tendulkar’s fourth century on the trot since the first Test against Bangladesh in Chittagong last month. He hit his second century in the second Test against Bangladesh in Mirpur and his third came in the first Test of the ongoing series in Nagpur. The quick dismissals of Sehwag and Tendulkar, the two well set batsmen, meant that India could not finish the day on a really commanding note.
Sehwag fell to J P Duminy with Ashwell Prince taking a simple catch in the cover region. His 174-ball 165 contained 23 boundaries and two sixes.
Tendulkar also returned to the pavilion soon after completing his century, his fifth against South Africa, with Harris plotting his dismissal. The star batsman edged the ball to Jaques Kallis in the slip leaving the Eden crowd shell shocked.
Earlier, India began the day by folding South African first innings at 296, conceding 30 more runs in the opening session.
With a four off Parnell to backward square-leg fence in the 69th over, the batting maestro carved his 47th century as his helmet came off and in his trademark style he looked upwards before acknowledging his feat to dressing room.
Sehwag, who was cruising along at the other end with 163, joined Tendulkar midway down the wicket with a warm hug as a standing ovation came from the near-full Eden crowd.
In the post-lunch session, the duo showed tremendous resilience as India slowly recovered from the twin blows of Gambhir and Murali Vijay.
Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag gave India an explosive start, stitching 73 runs for first wicket in just 9.2 overs before the southpaw was run out for 25.
Dale Steyn, first Test hero for the visitors, found the going tough with Sehwag creaming him for three consecutive boundaries and went on to concede 29 runs in his forgettable first spell of five overs.
With Sehwag on fire, there was a similar treatment at the other end for Morkel who conceded 28 runs from his three-over first spell.
Left-arm pacer Wayne Parnell replaced Morkel but it did not help as he leaked 11 runs in his first over with Sehwag freely dispatching the left-arm quickie over third-man for the first six of their innings. Gambhir also joined the party as the Indian openers kept an eight-plus run-rate.
Just when South Africa needed a breakthrough badly, India gifted them an easy wicket in the form of Gambhir who became the victim of a Sehwag blunder.
With India cruising 72 for no loss in 9.1 overs, Gambhir responded to a second run call from Sehwag but only to see himself stranded in the middle of the track as his partner changed mind.
The disappointing end to the entertaining opening stand brought Murali Vijay to the wicket. However, Vijay (7) did not last long as he was caught brilliantly by AB De Villiers behind the wicket off Morkel.
Sehwag was lucky as he was dropped at the first slip by Duminy in the very next over. Earlier, resuming at 266 for nine, South Africa added 30 runs to their overnight total before Wayne Parnell (12) was dismissed by Zaheer Khan leg before wicket in the fourth over of the second day.
Khan was the most successful Indian bowler returning with figures of 4-90. Morne Morkel remained not out on 11 as the last wicket pair added 35 runs from 55 balls.