India are half way to pulling off a great victory in the second Test against South Africa at Durban. It was fatalities wholesale on Day 2 of the encounter with 18 wickets tumbling in all. Thankfully for India, a majority of the departures were inflicted on the hosts as the tide clearly turned in the favour of the tourists.
Zaheer and Harbhajan were in their element with the former effecting his vintage, destructive movement and the latter spinning a web around the Proteas. Even their partners Ishant and Sreesanth who have hitherto endured a forgetful tour, finally came to the party, claiming a crucial wicket each. Meanwhile, an extraordinary bit of fielding from Ishant sent back the double centurion of the last Test, Jacques Kallis, for a mere 10.
Sure, the hosts struck back hard, by tearing through India's top order in the tourists' second innings. Virender Sehwag endeavoured to decisively tilt the scales in India's favour with his trademark belligerent batting. But as so often happens, his over-eager intent led to his undoing as he impetuously flailed at a sucker ball from paceman Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Mimicking the circumstances of India's first innings, Vijay was quick to exit after losing his partner. He was left bemused and nonplussed by a monstrous bouncer from Morne Morkel and was on his way for 9.
A lot was expected from Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar with India at the crucial juncture of 48/2. But again India's chief run-getters disappointed. Their batting flopped for the second time in the same Test, as they failed to counter those quick balls outside off-stump. Dravid didn't get close enough to effect a safe off-drive and was caught behind off Tsotobe, while just 8 runs and 2 overs later, Tendulkar was a tad late in attempting an extravagant steering shot off Steyn, to find de Villiers at third slip.
With India foundering on 56/4, South Africa was poised to wrest back the match from India's hands. However, the hosts ran into resilient wall set up by VVS Laxman and Cheteshwar Pujara. The two batted with exceptional character as they bravely endeavoured to weather the storm and put India back on the rails. By stumps on Day two, the duo had put together 36 valuable runs and had lived to fight another day.
As India go into an all-important Day 3, one can expect these two batsmen to resume their defiance. After all, they have set the groundwork for an enthralling twist in the tale. Their first target should be the 250-run lead mark, which is a substantial 84 runs away. But once they cross that milestone, they would be aware - in accordance with what the experts say - that they have a challenging total in the bag.
The focus of Laxman and Pujara will be paramount in smothering the movement and bounce of the Proteas pacers. They shouldn't get too adventurous by going for shots outside the off-stump as the batsmen who went before them, did. Rather, they should aim to play the safest shots possible on a pitch that's turning more unpredictable by each delivery. The cracks are opening up and the surface is wilting, but the remaining Indian batsmen will have to stand their ground. India's tryst with history awaits at Durban on Day 3. India should grab it with both hands.