S. Dinakar

Maiden five-wicket haul for Sreesanth; Zaheer, Kumble chip in with two each

Johannesburg: India stares at a historic maiden Test triumph on South African soil. The controlled swing of Santhakumaran Sreesanth and Sourav Ganguly's grit have pushed the host to the precipice.

Twenty wickets fell on an astonishing Saturday. And when the dust settled on an action-packed second day of the first Castle series Test, the visitor was 311 ahead with five wickets remaining.

India, which grabbed a potentially match-winning first innings lead of 165, was 146 for five in its second innings at stumps with V.V.S. Laxman on a fluent 42.

Earlier, the South African innings lasted just over 25.1 overs. The host, in a shocking capitulation, was bundled out for 84, the country's lowest Test score against India. Sreesanth (five for 40) cut a swathe through the line-up.

Innings of substance

In the morning, Ganguly's fighting unbeaten 51 (101b, 4x4, 1x6) was an innings of substance. The left-hander, in a fire-fighting role, rallied with the lower order as India made 249.

On a dry surface of inconsistent bounce where batting called for application, skill and a measure of luck, the South African pacemen, with the glorious exception of Shaun Pollock, erred by relying too much on the short-pitched stuff.

Their ploy gave the Indians a chance to unleash the horizontal bat strokes; Virender Sehwag thrived during his chancy but useful 33 (29b, 6x4).

Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan read the pitch right. They either pitched the ball up, or hit the good length area, not providing the South Africans width.

While the South African pace attack was one-dimensional, India had a right-left combination new-ball operating.

First South African

Little went right for South Africa, apart from Shaun Pollock reaching a major milestone. When he prised out Rahul Dravid with a well-directed leg-cutter, Pollock became the first South African to scalp 400 batsmen in Tests.

Wasim Jaffer and Sehwag succumbed to Andre Nel in the corridor, and Sachin Tendulkar inside edged Pollock to his stumps. However, Ganguly (25), before he was caught behind off an otherwise disappointing Makhaya Ntini, once again batted with determination and poise. The southpaw and Laxman added 58 in a vital fifth-wicket stand.

Spot-on bowling

In the afternoon, India needed to strike early with the Kookaburra ball. Sreesanth and Zaheer were spot on. Importantly, pressure was maintained from both ends.

Sreesanth pitched the ball up and allowed it to swing. This was not one of his quickest spells. He tested the batsmen with his away movement, and probed them further with his ability to bring the ball in.

His opening burst of 10-3-40-5 was an amalgam of heart, skill and aggression.

He swung one into the left-handed Graeme Smith and opened up Hashim Amla with a mean outswinger. Sreesanth retained his intensity after lunch, twice beating Jacques Kallis outside the off-stump before snaring him in the cordon. He made short work of Mark Boucher and Pollock, the latter with a quicker, straighter delivery.

Zaheer brought his experience and craft into play, mixing up his length. He was helped by a brilliant catch by Sehwag square off the wicket when Herschelle Gibbs sliced a drive. The host went to lunch at 21 for three its top order was blown away and then slumped to 45 for seven. The Indians buzzed on the arena; Laxman was sharp in the slips.

There was some resistance from Ashwell Prince (24) and tail-ender Nel (21) before ace leggie Anil Kumble struck with his clever alteration of line and change of pace.

Skipper in control

Rahul Dravid was a skipper in control. He walked up to the bowlers from mid-on and mid-off, offering them words of guidance and encouragement.

Earlier, Ganguly's effort dripped with character. Andre Nel targeted the left-hander's body from round the wicket. Ganguly held firm. His back-lift was straighter and shorter and his stance more upright and balanced.

Of course, there was a gorgeous square drive off Ntini and an audacious pull off the same bowler over the ropes. But for most part, Ganguly cut out the extravagance for solidity.

Pollock and Nel got right to the end of the tail, when South Africa ran into a hurricane of sorts.

V.R.V. Singh biffed a hectic 19-ball 29 (6x4). And the last-wicket partnership added a hectic and unexpected 44 in 35 balls.

The events that followed were even more dramatic.

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India 1st innings: W. Jaffer lbw b Ntini 9, V. Sehwag c Boucher b Pollock 4, R. Dravid c Smith b Kallis 32, S. Tendulkar c A de Villiers b Kallis 44, V. Laxman c Boucher b Ntini 28, S. Ganguly (not out) 51, M.S. Dhoni c Pollock b Ntini 5, A. Kumble c Kallis b Nel 6, Z. Khan lbw b Pollock 9, S. Sreesanth c Amla b Pollock 0, V.R.V. Singh c & b Pollock 29; Extras (lb-15, nb-6, w-11): 32. Total (in 79.5 overs): 249

Fall of wickets: 1-14, 2-14, 3-83, 4-110, 5-156, 6-167, 7-188, 8-205, 9-205.

South Africa bowling: Steyn 10.1-3-26-0, Ntini 18-1-57-3, Pollock 17.5-7-39-4, Nel 18.5-5-45-1, Kallis 15-0-67-2.

South Africa 1st innings: G. Smith lbw b Sreesanth 5, H. Gibbs c Sehwag b Khan 0, H. Amla c Laxman b Sreesanth 0, J. Kallis c Laxman b Sreesanth 12, A. Prince c Dhoni b Kumble 24, A. de Villiers c Sehwag b Khan 6, M. Boucher b Sreesanth 5, S. Pollock lbw b Sreesanth 5, A. Nel c Khan b V.R.V. Singh 21, M. Ntini b Kumble 0, D. Steyn (not out) 0; Extras (b-2, nb-1, w-3): 6. Total (in 25.1 overs): 84

Fall of wickets: 1-5, 2-5, 3-5, 4-21, 5-33, 6-38, 7-45, 8-84, 9-84.

India bowling: Zaheer 10-3-32-2, Sreesanth 10-3-40-5, V.R.V. Singh 3.1-0-8-1, Kumble 2-1-2-2.

India 2nd innings: W. Jaffer c Smith b Nel 4, V. Sehwag c Gibbs b Nel 33, R. Dravid c Boucher b Pollock 1, S. Tendulkar b Pollock 14, V. Laxman (batting) 42, Ganguly c Boucher b Ntini 25, M.S. Dhoni (batting) 17; Extras (b-2, lb-7, w-1): 10. Total (for five wickets in 35 overs): 146.

Fall of wickets: 1-20, 2-37, 3-41, 4-61, 5-119.

South Africa bowling: Ntini 9-0-56-1, Nel 11-2-38-2, Pollock 9-2-14-2, Kallis 6-2-19-0.

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