Morkel knocks the stuffing out of the visitor's top order
Potchefstroom: Confronted by a rampaging Morne Morkel, the Indians stared at another collapse. Then, comeback man Sourav Ganguly and all-rounder Irfan Pathan orchestrated a recovery at the Sedgars Park, here, on Thursday.
At stumps on day one against Rest of South Africa, the Indians were at a respectable 316 for seven, with Pathan unbeaten on a well-constructed 111 (176b, 15x4, 1x6). Ganguly made a battling 83, amid all the pressure
There was some bounce and seam movement in the surface early on, but the pitch eased out as the day progressed, even as the sun beat down on the pitch.
A determined Ganguly
Ganguly's 83 (141b, 13x4) dripped with determination. He walked in with the Indians tottering at 37 for three after being inserted by Jacques Rudolph.
Ganguly has worked on his batting during ten months he has been away from international cricket. Now, there is an unmistakable solidity about his ways at the crease.
The left-hander played close to his body, revealed sound judgment in the corridor. He firmly got behind the line of the ball, was poised in, both, defence and offence.
He has changed his stance. Earlier he was leaning too heavily on his front leg. Now, he is more upright, more balanced. His body weight better distributed, his footwork against the pacemen has improved.
The left-hander has also shortened his backlift his bat is coming down straighter. There were some typically gorgeous cover and square drives past a packed off-side field off pacemen Morkel and Nantie Hayward and Paul Adams' innocuous left-arm wrist spin.
Moments of concern
There were a couple of moments of concern though. Ganguly was 33 when a nasty lifter from Hayward struck him on the helmet above the right ear.
There was an interruption in play as Ganguly received attention, but he fought on. Then, when on 41, Vaughn van Jaarsveld spilled a regulation catch at third slip off the impressive Morkel.
Ganguly finally succumbed after tea, caught behind off the nippy Friedel de Wet, who replaced an injured Garnett Kruger in the eleven.
Ganguly and Pathan added 139 runs for the sixth wicket in 213 balls.
Pathan, first blunted the attack, with good defensive batting and then essayed some spanking shots himself. He was comfortable off his back-foot.
The left-hander punched and drove the pacemen, including Morkel, through the covers, pulled them when they pitched short, and flicked the bowlers when they erred in line.
Race for pace slots
There is an intense competition for the pace slots Munaf Patel with soft tissue damage in his left ankle is almost ruled out of the Wanderers Test and Pathan's batting could give him an edge in the race.
He sent J.P. Duminy's part-time off-spin over long-on for a six to reach the first hundred by an Indian on this tour. His century was scored off 161 balls (13 fours, one six).
There was some spirited resistance from the lower order with Harbhajan Singh biffing an entertaining 47 off 67 balls.
Earlier, the young Morkel ran riot. The tall pacemen with a fluent run-up and a high-arm action, generated speed, achieved movement, and extracted bounce.
Pacy and precise
The openers did not open their accounts. Hayward was mostly wayward, but he did trap Wasim Jaffer in front with a delivery of fullish length that swung in. Morkel then snuffed out Virender Sehwag's form revival hopes with a pacy and precise yorker.
V.V.S. Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar promised briefly before disappointing. Tendulkar pushed, fatally, at an away seamer from Morkel. The paceman's impressive first spell read 6-0-27-2.
He struck too in his second burst, from the pavilion end. Laxman attempted to drive a lifting delivery outside the off-stump and Justin Kemp pouched high at second slip. Then, M.S. Dhoni flashed at an away-going ball and 'keeper Morne van Wyk pulled off a brilliant catch.
The Indians went to lunch at an uneasy 69 for five. Then, Ganguly and Pathan turned it around for the visitors.
The scores: India: W. Jaffer lbw M. Hayward 0, V. Sehwag b M. Morkel 0, VVS Laxman c J. Kemp b M. Morkel 23, S. Tendulkar c J. Kemp b M. Morkel 10, S Ganguly c van Wyk b de Wet, M. Dhoni c van Wyk b Morkel, I. Pathan (batting) 111, Harbhajan Singh c Rudolph b Thomas 47, Zaheer Khan (batting) 9; Extras (b-2, lb-10, w-6, nb-9): 27; Total (for seven wkts. in 85 overs): 316.
Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-1, 3-37, 4-59, 5-69, 6-208, 7-287
Rest of South Africa bowling: M. Hayward 16-1-59-1, M. Morkel 19-2-74-4, A. Thomas 18-7-39-1, F de Wet 18-4-56-1, P Adams 9-1-54-0, J. Kemp 2-0-8-0, J. Duminy 3-1-14-0.