Centurion:It lasted three deliveries. After weeks of anticipation, and a four-and-a-half-hour rain delay, the duel between Dale Steyn and Virender Sehwag ended the moment the batsman touched the ball at SuperSport Park. Anti-climatic it may have been, but the South Africans were in rapture. With Sehwag gone, Steyn and Morne Morkel gave India a hostile welcome - one that involved tenderising gloves, bruising bodies and the smell of lacquer and leather. India were hustled and hurried by bouncers, but it was the fuller follow-up delivery that brought South Africa wickets, and plenty of them.
The Indians had spent a week at Gary Kirsten's academy in Cape Town, customizing their preparation for today, but the reality of Steyn and Morkel was nastier than the simulation. The batsmen were unable to score, if only to get off strike to deny the bowler consecutive deliveries at a particular player, and the time to execute plans. Of 122 deliveries bowled in the first session, 101 were dots and India's accomplished line-up continued to underperform in their bogey country.
The first delivery set the tone after overnight and early-morning downpours had dampened conditions, prompting Graeme Smith to put India in. Steyn hit Gautam Gambhir's back pad and a close lbw appeal was denied. This attack was classier than India's previous test - New Zealand. Sehwag shouldered arms twice in Steyn's opening over, and in the bowler's second, he attempted to flay the ball through cover point. It moved away a fraction and flew off the edge to Hashim Amla, placed at third man for precisely that. Steyn 1, Sehwag 0, India 1 for 1 and stunned.
Gambhir was perhaps lucky on 1, when a ripsnorter from Morkel rose from a length and sped towards his face. Gambhir began to sway and then fended helplessly. The ball appeared to kiss the glove and was pouched by Mark Boucher, but umpire Steve Davis shook his head. Morkel had touched speeds of 150kph during his first spell and, perhaps, was just too quick.
The reprieve cost South Africa only four runs, perhaps the hardest runs Gambhir has made. Morkel pounded in from round the wicket, pitched the ball short of a length, angled it into the left-hander, targeting the body and sometimes the head. Pinned to the crease without room outside off, Gambhir ducked and defended in discomfort.
There was no respite against Steyn either. Following a brief exchange of words, Steyn let rip. Gambhir took his eyes off the bouncer and wore it on his back. The next ball was fuller, moved away from the left-hander, and beat the tentative poke outside off stump. Gambhir's struggle ended soon, though, and it was the follow-up ball to the bouncer that got him. Having been cornered by the short-pitched attack from Morkel, he drove at a fuller one with poor footwork, and edged to first slip.
Dravid had appeared the most comfortable, relatively speaking, taking his bottom hand off the bat to fend rising deliveries, careful to leave anything outside off, and compact while playing deliveries aimed at his body. Morkel then got one to jag sharply into him from outside off. Dravid was caught on the crease, hit on the pad and Morkel was celebrating his 100th Test wicket, having reduced India to 27 for 3.
The smattering of rain-resistant spectators gave Sachin Tendulkar a warm reception and he responded to adversity by taking on the less-threatening Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Tendulkar pulled him twice for fours from outside off stump, drove fluently through cover and guided to third man. Neither Tendulkar, nor VVS Laxman weren't tested as much by South Africa's support act, but their respite was fleeting and ended soon after the break for tea.
Tendulkar continued to attack Steyn, edging past his stumps before driving through extra cover and cutting past point - all for boundaries. Steyn responded with two similar deliveries, on a good length, straight and fast. The first beat Laxman's flick from the crease and uprooted middle stump. The second beat Tendulkar's flick from the crease and hit the pad, otherwise it too would have uprooted middle stump. Between those dismissals Suresh Raina, who appeared brittle as a leaf in a thunderstorm, had edged Jacques Kallis to third slip. India, at 71 for 6, were being cooked on a braai.
Harbhajan fought, as he usually does, but a trigger movement towards leg as the fast bowlers attacked him betrayed nervousness. He hit the day's only six, clouting Tsotsobe over long-on, before losing grip on his bat and falling short of his crease. The tailenders had no chance against the barrage, and only Dhoni, with his awkward movements, threw a few counter-punches.
Rain had threatened to ruin the opening day of the series, the terrific efforts of the groundstaff had ensured it wasn't washed out, and similar efforts from South Africa's fearsome new-ball attack ensured that lost time was made up.