Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh combined to rip through South Africa’s middle order as India staged a dramatic late comeback to reduce the visitors to 266 for nine on the opening day of their second and final cricket Test here today.
It was a stunning collapse for the Proteas, who were at one stage cruising along, courtesy fluent centuries by debutant Alviro Petersen (100) and Hashim Amla (114).
At stumps, Wayne Parnell (2) and Morne Morkel (3) were at the crease for South Africa when play was called off early due to bad light.
The South Africans went into tea break at 228 for two but in a stunning reversal of fortunes, Harbhajan picked up three wickets in the space of two overs to wreck the visiting line-up.
The offspinner ended the day with figures of 23-2-63-3.
Pace speahead Zaheer also picked up three wickets conceding 77 runs in his 21 overs.
Ishant Sharma too struck form and though he had just one wicket to show, the pace he generated in the final session rattled the visiting batsmen.
Earlier, 20-year-old Petersen became the first South African in 18 years to slam a hundred on debut, while last match’s double centurion Amla continued from where he had left off, scoring his ninth Test ton.
For most part of the day, Indian bowling was made to look ordinary by Petersen and Amla as they combined for a 209-run second-wicket stand before the middle order collapse let the visitors down.
After losing skipper Graeme Smith (4), who was castled by Zaheer, South Africa recovered brilliantly through the partnership between Amla and Petersen which came off 304 balls.
For two sessions, South Africa were firmly in command before Zaheer took the prized scalps of both Amla and Petersen soon after the tea break.
From there on, Harbhajan also got into the groove as he dismissed allrounder Jacques Kallis (10). V.V.S. Laxman, who had dropped Amla at slips when the batsman was on 60, made amends for his earlier blooper when he took a tumbling catch off Harbhajan to get rid of Kallis.
Laxman, who has just recovered from a finger injury, took a running catch from the slip to complete it at the fine leg in 66th over of the match.
It opened the account for Harbhajan at his happy hunting ground as the offspinner put himself in line for yet another hat-trick at Eden Gardens bringing back the memories of 2001 series against Australia.
In an eventful 68th over, Harbhajan roared back into his eluding form dismissing Ashwell Prince (1) and Jean-Paul Duminy (0) - both trapped leg before - to script an exceptional turnaround for India.
Prince, who was out for a duck in the Nagpur Test, managed to open his account this time but didn’t last too long when he was caught plumb in front of the middle-stump, bringing the crowd back on the feet.
In an identical dismissal off the very next ball, Harbhajan got rid of Duminy, who was also trapped in front playing to a straight top-spinner.
Harbhajan missed out on a hat-trick at the Eden, but the two dismissals in succession brought India back into the game in an astounding fashion as South Africa reeled at 253 for six.
More drama followed when Zaheer, with a brilliant throw from mid-off, ran AB de Villiers (12) out as South Africans lost their seventh wicket in the final session of the day.
From the non-striker’s end, de Villiers almost ran midway into the pitch before realising that there was no run to be taken as Zaheer executed the run—out.
Having gone wicketless in the Nagpur Test, Ishant finally took his first wicket of the series when he dismissed Paul Harris (1) in the 44th over leaving South Africa at 255 for eight.
Legspinner Amit Mishra also opened his account for the first time in this series when he took the scalp of Dale Steyn (5) by trapping him leg before although replays suggested that the ball hit the bat first.
South Africa first innings: Graeme Smith* b Khan 4, Alviro Petersen c Dhoni b Khan 100, HM Amla c Dhoni b Khan 114, Jacques Kallis c Laxman b Harbhajan Singh 10, AB de Villiers run out (Khan) 12, Ashwell Prince lbw b Harbhajan Singh 1, JP Duminy lbw b Harbhajan Singh 0, Dale Steyn lbw b Misra 5, Paul Harris c Dhoni b Sharma 1, Wayne Parnell not out 2, Morne Morkel not out 3. Extras (B 1, LB 4, NB 9) 14
Total (For nine wickets in 70.2 overs) 266
Fall of wickets: 1-9, 2-218, 3-229, 4-251, 5-253, 6-253, 7-254, 8-255, 9-261.
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 21-5-77-3, Ishant Sharma 17-3-56-1, Amit Mishra 20-3-68-1, Harbhajan Singh 23-2-60-3.