CENTURION, December 17 – South Africa's fast bowlers made up for lost time as they ripped through the Indian batting line-up on a rain-shortened first day of the first Test at SuperSport Park on Thursday.Morne Morkel took four wickets and Dale Steyn three as India crashed to 136 for nine after being sent in on a green, damp pitch.
Morkel, who took four for 20 and bowled with consistent hostility, said it was a disciplined performance by the bowlers.
"We were under pressure after winning the toss and sending them in to bat. We needed to execute well. A lot of times when the ball is nipping around you can get carried away but today we kept calm, kept cool and did the basics right," he said.
Steyn, whose three wickets cost 34 runs, backed up his new ball partner’s comments.
"All the wickets today were with good bowling and keeping the ball up to the bat," he said. "It was good planning."
Only Sachin Tendulkar, who made an elegant 36 off 34 balls, looked at ease as Steyn and Morkel confirmed their credentials as the world’s most lethal new ball pair as they scythed through the side ranked number one in Test cricket.
Steyn started the slide early when he had Virender Sehwag caught at third man for nought. He followed up with two superb, full, late-swinging deliveries to get rid of VVS Laxman and Tendulkar after the pair had mounted a mini-recovery after India had slumped to 27 for three.
Laxman and Tendulkar put on 39 before Laxman and Tendulkar fell in successive overs from Steyn, sandwiched by the wicket of Suresh Raini, who lasted only three balls before edging Jacques Kallis to third slip.
The tall Morkel claimed the wickets of Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid in successive overs. He also dismissed tailenders Ishant Sharma and Sree Sreesanth before bad light ended play. Dravid was his 100th victim in his 29th Test.
Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, hitting out as he batted with the tail, finished the day on 33 not out.
The only other batsman to reach 20 was Harbhajan Singh, who followed his two centuries against New Zealand recently with another hard-hitting innings of unusual strokes, making 27 off 25 balls before he was out in a manner as unorthodox as his batting.
After Dhoni hit the ball to deep cover, wicketkeeper Mark Boucher collected a throw from Alviro Petersen and flicked it between his own legs to run out Harbhajan by a few centimetres.
Harbhajan said the toss was the most crucial factor of the day.
"It’s always tough to lose the toss on this sort of wicket," he said.
"Some balls were stopping and some were going through."
Harbhajan said India remained confident.
"As a team we like to be challenged," he said. "Now we will look to bowl well and stop them getting too far away from us."
Morkel, though, backed South Africa to gain a worthwhile lead when they get to bat.
"I can’t see us not getting the runs on the board," he said.
Heavy rain overnight and during the morning delayed the start by four and a half hours and South African captain Graeme Smith had no hesitation about sending India in. Dhoni said he too would have chosen to bowl first.