Cape Town:South Africa's batsmen were tested severely by seam and swing on a stop-start day dominated by drizzle, murky light and a Table Mountain shrouded in cloud. By the time Newlands was bathed in glorious evening sunshine, though, the home team had lost only four wickets and had denied India the rewards that appeared imminent during the morning and afternoon. Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis, the most resolute of South Africans, manned the frontline and three consecutive half-century partnerships ensured the hosts edged ahead in the fight for the series.
The weather, the pitch and the Indian seamers examined South Africa's batting skills after MS Dhoni won his first toss in the New Year, having lost all but one of his previous 14. There were two rain interruptions and the natural light had to be supplemented by artificial ones, which required the batsmen's concentration to be at its peak. The pitch offered the bowlers assistance throughout, forcing the batsmen to be alert to the one that would suddenly jag back in, or seam sharply away. They edged plenty, but most flew into gaps in the field.
South Africa's innings had come to a standstill after they lost their openers - Graeme Smith shortly before the first rain interruption and Alviro Petersen soon after. It sparked to life during the period between the second rain break and tea, with Amla playing the protagonist.
Amla had batted with discipline, leaving majority of the deliveries outside off stump, especially when Zaheer Khan seamed them across him from over the wicket. Zaheer also went around the stumps and caused problems, beating Amla with a blockhole delivery outside off, inducing an inside edge past the stumps and a leading edge that lobbed dangerously towards cover - all in one over.
The pitch at Newlands wasn't as quick or bouncy as the one at Kingsmead, where batsmen could leave the ball on length. India's bowlers had not attempted a single bouncer when bad light and rain stopped play for a second time, with South Africa 61 for 2 after the 21st over. It was not that sort of pitch.
It was a pitch on which the bowlers needed to bowl fuller, and the Indians did. It was a pitch on which the batsmen needed to be made to drive, and the South Africans did. Kallis had driven Sreesanth with power through cover just before the rain, but Amla took charge after the second resumption.
He drove the first ball after the break from Zaheer through point, the next wide of mid-on, where Sachin Tendulkar dived over the ball, and another between midwicket and mid-on - all for boundaries. Sreesanth also urged Amla to drive by delivering swinging half-volleys outside off, two of which disappeared across the moist turf towards the cover boundary. In 4.1 overs after the second drizzle, South Africa had scored 30.
Sreesanth then tried a different line of attack, placing men at long leg and deep square and bouncing Amla, who hooked the first for six to reach 50 off 69 balls. Amla continued to attack, but not all his shots came off. He edged Sreesanth twice, first over gully and then wide of second slip. Zaheer also produced two crackers that pitched straight and seamed across the outside edge of Amla's forward pushes. On 59, Amla pulled Sreesanth again, but this time he spliced the short ball to Cheteshwar Pujara on the deep-square boundary. It was the only wicket that India took during the second session and it ended a partnership of 72.
Kallis had been quiet during Amla's burst but he assumed leadership of the resistance with AB de Villiers for company. Kallis had shouldered arms to his second delivery, from Ishant, and had been hit high on the thigh. He was later struck on the body while pulling, and he was batting with a wrist bruised during his dismissal at Kingsmead.
He faced a difficult over from Ishant right after tea, getting beaten by deliveries that straightened from a good length just outside off stump. He responded to that by flicking the bowler confidently through midwicket, growing his partnership with de Villiers, who had to tailor his free-scoring game to the conditions.
Harbhajan Singh was bowling economically, and the fast bowlers were always threatening to strike. Sreesanth did, inducing the edge from de Villiers with a perfect outswinger, snipping the stand at 58.
One aspect noticeable by its absence was the lack of aggression from India's bowlers, compared to their performance in Durban, and they were slower in pace too. And once the sun came out, and the bowlers tired, survival became relatively easier. Kallis was assured towards the end of the day, Prince was edgy at the start of his innings but they also added 68 runs to make Smith the happier captain at stumps.