New Delhi:South Africa opener Neil McKenzie fell six runs short of posting successive Test centuries and Hashim Amla compiled an unbeaten 85 on Wednesday as the tourists dominated the opening day of the first Test against India.
Amla's sedate knock followed an imposing opening stand of 132 between McKenzie (94) and skipper Graeme Smith (73) that powered South Africa to 304 for four on a placid pitch offering little assistance to the bowlers.
The mercury was touching 32 degrees Celsius and the relative humidity was measured at 74 per cent when Amla was smothering the Indian spinners, who managed to strike two late blows to reduce the flow of runs.
McKenzie fell just six runs shy of a well-deserved ton just before tea when Harbhajan Singh had him caught by Rahul Dravid at the lone slip after a 156-ball knock that included 18 hits to the fence.
Earlier, Anil Kumble earned the breakthrough for India but not before Smith had reached 73 off 97 balls with the help of 13 boundaries.
The attacking left-hander was caught by VVS Laxman at short mid-wicket.
For the Indian bowlers, it has been a tough day when they toiled on an unresponsive pitch under a searing sun that necessitated frequent drinks break.
Both batsmen attacked pacemen RP Singh and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth and continued untroubled after skipper Anil Kumble brought himself on with fellow spinner Harbhajan Singh to find a breakthrough.
Neil McKenzie is looking in great touch and so far the Indian new ball bowlers haven't managed to trouble him at all. On the other hand is skipper Graeme Smith, who too is settling down.
Earlier this month, Smith and McKenzie had created a new world record for first wicket partnership with a stand of 415 runs against Bangladesh, eclipsing the earlier record posted by India's Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy 50 years ago.
Both teams are eyeing victory in the three-Test series to mount a challenge to Australia's number one Test ranking.
The Indians have left out Irfan Pathan and Piyush Chawla from the final squad. Yuvraj Singh has been named 12th man in the side.
India's record on home turf clearly makes the hosts favourites provided the weather holds good for all the five days.
The South Africans, meanwhile, have dropped Monde Zondeki and Robin Peterson from the playing XI.
Smith said Peterson has been left out because he landed here only last morning and needed some time to get acclimatised to the conditions.
South Africa: Graeme Smith (Capt), Hashim Amla, Mark Boucher (WK), A B de Villiers, Paul Harris, Jacques Kallis, Niel Mckenzie, Morne Morkel, Makhaya Nitini, Ashwell Prince and Dale Steyn.
12th man: Jean Duminy
India: Anil Kumble (Capt), M S Dhoni (WK), Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V V S Laxman, Harbhajan Singh, Virender Sehwag, Piyush Chawla, Wasim Jaffer, R P Singh, S Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan.
12th man: Yuvraj Singh
Umpires: Tony Hill and Asad Rauf.
Standbyes: Amish Saheba and S K Tarapore.
Match referee: Roshan Mahanama.
Hours of play: 9.30 am to 11.30 am, 12.10 pm to 2.10 pm, 2.30 pm to 4.30 pm.