After Virender Sehwag (165) and Sachin Tendulkar (106) threatened to put the second Test beyond South Africa, India lost late wickets on Monday. Consequently the match was intriguingly poised after the second day’s play here at Eden Gardens although India, with a lead of 46, has its nose slightly in front.

Having dismissed South Africa for 296 -- the last-wicket pair of Wayne Parnell and Morne Morkel added 35 -- India was sitting pretty on 331 for two at one stage. But India lost three wickets, including both century-makers, for five runs to slump to 336 for five.

It was left to V.V.S. Laxman and night-watchman Amit Mishra to see India to stumps, and this they did. Tuesday’s first session will be of great interest; however it plays out, it will struggle to replicate the manic energy Monday’s morning session had.

With Sehwag one is never sure if he’s redefining batsmanship or merely looks like he is because he has reduced the craft to its first principles: see the ball; hit the ball. With batsmanship being obscured over the years in cloaks of theory and technique, perhaps we don’t recognise its true self any more. Sehwag has done many great things already, but the most significant of them is training attention on this apparent contradiction.

Demolition job

But Sehwag doesn’t bat to illuminate (although it is a consequence); he bats to win matches. He shattered South Africa’s bowling on Monday.

Sehwag began his assault with a stroke he wasn’t fully in control of: he threw his hands at a Dale Steyn delivery outside off-stump, carving it over point for four and finishing the stroke one-handed.

Steyn didn’t find the conventional swing he had at Nagpur, and Sehwag whipped the opening bowler to deep mid-wicket before punching him through cover. Morkel was square driven, cut witheringly, and biffed over cover. Parnell was lashed through point and upper-cut for six.

Both Steyn and Morkel generated high pace, the former touching the mid 140s (kmph) and the latter often breaching 150 kmph. But with no swing and little lateral movement off the track, they couldn’t short-circuit Sehwag’s unique bat-flow.

They did have bounce to work with, however, but Sehwag countered it in two ways: anything that lifted into his ribs was avoided by either crouching under the delivery or by swaying out of the line; those that rose off a length were hit on the up through the off-side with a slight hop that both shifted his body out of the way and allowed the ball to be met on the top of its bounce.

Gambhir batted with great care against Morkel, doing his utmost not to be conquered again by the tall fast-bowler. Although the left-hander succeeded in this objective, he could do little about Sehwag’s late decision not to return for a second run.

Sehwag appeared heart-broken at having run out his best friend. It certainly made him bat more circumspectly: after racing to 44 in 24 balls, he made only nine in the next 24. Morkel, after a first spell of three overs for 28 runs, returned to torment M. Vijay.

Getting the ball to climb at express pace, Morkel hit Vijay’s grill. More bouncers followed: as a result, the ball of fuller length caught the batsman on the move. A.B. de Villiers, despite not moving like a regular wicketkeeper, compensated with a smart dive.

It was during this spell that Morkel bullied Sehwag (on 47 then) into edging to J.P. Duminy at first slip where the chance was shelled. South Africa’s other chance of dismissing Sehwag came when the batsman was on 129. De Villiers failed to stump him off Paul Harris.

Tendulkar batted like a man with an intimate knowledge of his craft. Except for a curiously uneasy phase as he approached his 47th Test century, he looked in control. He ran down the wicket to wrist Harris from left-arm over to the leg-side.

There was a particularly delightful sequence of four balls during which Tendulkar flicked fast, full-length deliveries from Morkel either side of square-leg before paddle-sweeping Harris. Sehwag and Tendulkar looked to consolidate India’s position after tea, adding 99 in 25.2 overs without doing anything out of the ordinary.

Beginning of the slide

But just as it seemed that India would succeed where South Africa had failed on Sunday, Duminy lulled Sehwag into a loose drive.

Harris, who was wided 12 times for his negative line, switched to around the wicket to have Tendulkar caught at slip. Steyn then discomfited S. Badrinath with reverse swing before putting a vicious off-cutter through him. An over later the Indian batsmen took the umpires’ offer of light.

Scoreboard

South Africa — 1st innings: G. Smith b Zaheer 4 ( 12b, 1x4), A. Petersen c  Dhoni b Zaheer 100 ( 164b, 16x4), H. Amla c Dhoni b Zaheer 114 ( 166b, 14x4, 1x6), J. Kallis c Laxman b Harbhajan 10 ( 26b, 1x4), A.B. de Villiers (run out) 12 ( 37b, 2x4), A. Prince lbw b Harbhajan 1 ( 8b), J.P. Duminy lbw b Harbhajan 0 ( 1b), D. Steyn lbw b Mishra 5 ( 37b), P. Harris c Dhoni b Ishant 1 ( 4b), W. Parnell lbw b Zaheer 12 ( 32b, 2x4), M. Morkel (not out) 11 ( 34b, 2x4); Extras (b-1, lb-4, nb-11, w-10): 26. Total (in 85 overs): 296.

Fall of wickets: 1-9 (Smith), 2-218 (Petersen), 3-229 (Amla), 4-251 (Kallis), 5-253 (Prince), 6-253 (Duminy), 7-254 (de Villiers), 8-255 (Harris), 9-261 (Steyn).

India bowling: Zaheer 22-5-90-4, Ishant 18-3-67-1, Mishra 21-3-70-1, Harbhajan 24-2-64-3.

India — 1st innings: G. Gambhir (run out) 25 ( 38b, 3x4), V. Sehwag c Prince b Duminy 165 ( 174b, 23x4, 2x6), M. Vijay c de Villiers b Morkel 7 ( 15b, 1x4), S. Tendulkar c Kallis b Harris 106 ( 206b, 12x4), V.V.S. Laxman (batting) 9 ( 20b, 2x4), S. Badrinath b Steyn 1 ( 8b), A. Mishra (batting) 1 ( 1b); Extras (b-5, lb-5, nb-6, w-12): 28. Total (for five wkts. in 76 overs): 342.

Fall of wickets: 1-73 (Gambhir), 2-82 (Vijay), 3-331 (Sehwag), 4-335 (Tendulkar), 5-336 (Badrinath).

South Africa bowling: Steyn 17-4-66-1, Morkel 15-1-80-1, Parnell 12-1-61-0, Kallis 7-0-24-0, Harris 24-1-97-1, Duminy 1-0-4-1.

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