It was the first real bouncer of the day. And it was quick and nasty. Unlike the few that had cruised over the South African batsmens heads,hardly threatening them. This was at breakneck speed and climbing towards Shikhar Dhawans throat,fast and menacingly. The Delhi left-hander did to his credit attempt a pull-shot. A meek one it might have been. The result: top-edged and looping into wicket-keeper Quinton de Kocks gloves.
You could almost have imagined the entire Indian dressing-room go Nooo in unison. Not just because their hopeful pursuit of 359 had been rendered an early shock with the loss of their attacking opener. But more so because the dismissal had set off a chorus of I told you so around the cricketing world,probably even back home in India. And as India were all out for 217,losing the first ODI by 141 runs,the old story about Indias woes on lively tracks abroad was unfolding once again.
Pace,bounce,seam,Steyn and Morkel after all have been the buzzwords ever since the Mahendra Singh Dhoni & Co left for these shores three days back. And with just one well-directed short-pitched delivery,Morkel had set the tone in many ways for the tour.
Dale Steyn was not bowling bouncers at the other end,however. The South African pace ace instead was rendering Rohit Sharma a reality check. By the end of Steyns second over,Rohit had left six balls alone while the other six had seamed past his outside-edge. The bat and ball were having a clear tiff. The right-hander,who had arrived here in the pinkest form imaginable,was in the middle of a strenuous inquisition,one for which he seemed to have no response.
Different ball game
Despite not being filled to the brim,the Bullring was living up to its reputation. The cauldron was now starting to feel a lot more daunting,especially for Rohit. All of a sudden,ODI cricket seemed a lot more different. You couldnt just plonk your front foot and smash the delivery,whatever its length,anywhere you pleased. The ball was playing tricks it wasnt supposed to,or ones that the Indian batsmanhadnt witnessed in a long while.
The third over from Steyn started off with three more deliveries whizzing past Rohits gloves and bat. The temperamental fast bowler had had enough. He stood his ground and let the opener know exactly what he thought of his sint. Why cant you just edge one of those? he seemed to be saying. Rohit then finally got bat to ball,confidently behind its line,then a leading edge for his first run of the day.
Against Australia he often looked like he was batting in a video-game,facing bowlers at the novice level. Here he had been exposed to the toughest level possible against the meanest operator with a cricket ball.
Virat Kohli too wasnt finding life any easier,but he did strike two confident boundaries off Steyn to give some impetus to the Indian innings and some hope to his dressing-room. He continued in the same vein for a while,trying to take the attack,but then perished to Ryan McLaren.
The same bowler who India might have targeted as one of the weak-links of a rather formidable attack but one who had the third-highest wickets in ODIs this year. The delivery shaping away from Kohli at a sharp angle,taking his outside-edge. Yuvraj Singh strode out and lasted two deliveries,bowled through the gate.
It wasnt just the visitors egos taking a beating. Kohli took a blow just under the ribs leaving him winded,Yuvraj was struck on the helmet by McLaren with the first ball he faced and then clean bowled off the next. And before long,Rohit and Suresh Raina both were run out,leaving Mahendra Singh Dhoni on his own and the scorecard in tatters.
For a major part of the first session,the dark clouds hovered over the Wanderers threatening to break open at any point. The setting if anything was murky. Not one where you would expect a batting team to prosper,forget thrash the living daylights of the opposition and post 358 for 4 on the board.
Ironically,as the clouds conveniently skipped past the Wanderers,and the sky cleared,Indias worst nightmares had turned into reality.