Team India was given one of the warmest receptions when they touched down in South Africa a few days ago. But with all the initial niceties, pleasantries and welcoming customs and rituals complete, the rain gave way to sheer hostility and fire at Centurion Park. The South African new-ball pair of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel had the backing of a sizable holiday crowd that blended chants and cheers to spur on their soldiers.
Whether it was due to the damp conditions of the ground or the home support, the Proteas got on top of India in the first over itself. It was clear that Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were befuddled with the kind of velocity and nippiness that the bowlers were extracting off the pitch. All the player-video-analysis, the designer training camps, the exposure to sons-of-the-soil bowling attacks, amounted to naught when the Indian batting line-up was confronted with the alien nature of the encounter at Centurion on Day 1.
Before India knew what had hit them, they had lost Sehwag, Gambhir and Dravid with a meagre 27 on the board. Tendulkar and Laxman held out for a while, feeding hopes of a revival, but the tension gave way to success for the Proteas who continued to rip through the batting order with 6 more Indian wickets falling at such regular intervals. India were faced with the embarrassing predicament of being bowled out for a little over a hundred. But captain M S Dhoni has put up a strong front to see how many more runs he can eke out in this failing cause.
India's shockingly poor performance on the opening day of three-test match series in the Rainbow Nation drives home the point that they are utterly and completely starved of match practice. Harbhajan Singh however, begs to differ. "I don't think the warm-up game would have made any difference," he said. "We are actually playing on a very different wicket, I mean a wet wicket where the ball is seaming and nipping. The warm-up game would have been on a perfect cricketing wicket."
The fact of the matter is that most of the Indian team had just got two days to acclimatise to the pace and bounce of the South African wickets - hardly enough for the even the No. 1 ranked team in the world. But Dhoni and coach Gary Kirtsen seemed positive about the evidently inadequate preparation that the visiting side got, even as former India captain Sourav Ganguly had requested Kirsten to push for at least one warm-up match.
One will have to wait and see how the pendulum swings in the remaining four days of the Test. India has a mountain to climb at this point in order to claw its way back into the Test. And considering that their pace bowling spearhead Zaheer Khan, is out with hamstring strain and the new and largely inexperienced Jaidev Unadkat has been lugged on board, India don't have too much going for them.