Durban:Take a green, pacy pitch, add overcast conditions, and unleash perhaps the world's best new-ball attack on it. That's what awaited India's batsmen at Kingsmead, and though they responded marginally better than they did in the first Test in Centurion, another exhibition of top-class fast bowling from Dale Steyn put South Africa in charge. Several of the batsmen got starts, but then either played poor strokes or received near unplayable deliveries - everyone got into double-digits but the highest score was VVS Laxman's 38.
South Africa were also helped by two vital contributions from Lonwabo Tsotsobe, whose place was under scrutiny coming into the second Test: first removing Sachin Tendulkar with a delivery angling across, which was edged to second slip, and then pulling off an incredible low catch at mid-on to end Laxman's resistance.
The perils in store for the batsmen were evident right from the first delivery of the match, which reared from a length and struck Virender Sehwag painfully on the fingers. The ball was jagging around prodigiously and the openers had a tough time: Sehwag was beaten by a peach off the final ball of the first over from Steyn. In the next over from Morne Morkel, a ball swerved in sharply to cut Sehwag in half. Other batsmen may be unnerved by that; Sehwag just smiled and went for his shots without worrying about the movement. The approach paid off for a while, bringing the usual flow of early Sehwag boundaries.
With Morkel guilty of bowling too short and Tsotsobe unable to control the runs, India survived nearly till drinks. Steyn, though, had been probing consistently outside off, working his outswinger beautifully. It was one of those outswingers that accounted for Sehwag - pitched up and asking to be driven, only for the late movement to get the outside edge to slip.
In his next over, Steyn sent back the other opener, M Vijay - in for the injured Gautam Gambhir - who had looked less in control than Sehwag. A beauty of a delivery had Vijay fishing outside off, and nicking to the keeper. Vijay had started the innings leaving most deliveries outside off, but had a chancy stay - dropped by Paul Harris at first slip when on 3, and later by AB de Villiers, who nearly plucked a blinder at third slip.
Tendulkar was adventurous in the short spell till lunch, using the uppercut to pick up a couple of boundaries, though he also had the fortune of a pull flying over the keeper for four. India would have been satisfied with the 74 for 2 they posted in the morning session, but they lost the big wicket of Tendulkar off the fifth ball after the break.
India's two other middle-order stalwarts - Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman - then started a recovery act. Neither batsman was particularly fluent, and their 38-run partnership had periods of total calm sandwiched by bursts of boundaries. Three fours came in the space of seven deliveries early on - with Laxman capitalising on some wayward Tsotsobe bowling - before a six-over spell in which only four runs were scored. Steyn was brought back to break the stand but bowled his only expensive over of the day - a gorgeous straight drive from Laxman brought up India's hundred before he pulled a short ball for a flat six, only the fifth of his Test career.
Once again, just as India seemed to have stabilised, Steyn struck: working over Dravid with a relentless offstump line before getting him to nick an away-going ball to the keeper. Two overs later, he was gifted a wicket as Tsotsobe held on to a casual pull from Laxman and India were down to 130 for 5.
Cheteshwar Pujara, taking the place of the struggling Suresh Raina, responded well to the challenge. He had a reprieve when Hashim Amla dropped him at forward short leg, but he was confident through his innings, highlighted by an uppercut for four off Morkel one delivery after he had mishit an attempted hook. He had moved to 19 when he threw it away, miscueing a pull to the keeper. That left India at 168 for 6, and Graeme Smith a satisfied man.