CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA // The more things change in Indian cricket, the more they stay the same. Notoriously poor starters, they are already staring at defeat less than five sessions into the Centurion Test.
Having not bothered with a warm-up game, gambled on two untested youngsters as pace back-up and then seen Zaheer Khan limp out of contention with a groin strain, India were left to chase shadows in the sunshine at SuperSport Park as South Africa finished the day on 366 for two, the first-innings lead already a massive 230.
Their tormentors were all too familiar. At Nagpur last February, when South Africa won by an innings, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis added 340 for the third wicket. Here, the association was worth an even 200 at stumps. Amla's 116 was his 12th century, while Kallis, who finished on 102, moved into Ricky Ponting's slipstream with century No 38.
Without Zaheer to lead the line, India created few chances, and one that was squandered could well prove decisive. Amla had made just 11 and the score was 141 for one when he inside-edged Harbhajan Singh behind. MS Dhoni, though, could not hold on.
With the morning session extended to 150 minutes, India had broken through only on the stroke of lunch, when Graeme Smith, who had pounded out 62 from 87 balls in typically pugnacious fashion, edged a cut behind off Harbhajan. Both he and Petersen had started cautiously against the new ball, taking just 19 from the first 10 overs, but as India started to lose discipline and energy, they cashed in to the tune of 61 from the next 10.
Petersen, who made a century on debut in Kolkata earlier this year, missed out on another when an inside edge on to the pad looped up to short leg, but that was as good as India's day would get.
It had started with no addition to the overnight total and Dhoni not even waiting for the umpire's verdict once Morne Morkel thudded one into his pads. That gave Morkel career-best figures of five for 20 and set the tone for a thoroughly one-sided day.
Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma did not make the batsmen play enough, while Jaidev Unadkat, the debutant, lacked the pace to hurry them into mistakes. With every batsman intent on taking on Harbhajan, the run-rate never slowed, and Dhoni got no respite from his part-time options either, with Kallis muscling sixes off Suresh Raina and Sachin Tendulkar.
There was turn and bounce for Harbhajan, but no reverse swing for the pacemen, and the conditions are likely to be similarly benign on day three when South Africa look to pile on the misery.
"The hairstyle changes, but the runs keep coming," said Rahul Dravid with a rueful grin at the end of the day's play, with reference to Kallis's new luxurious locks. "That doesn't change."
Neither has the Indian habit of starting poorly. They are already so precariously placed that only the storms predicted for tomorrow could save them.
India, 1st innings (overnight 136-9)
Dhoni lbw b Morkel 33
Unadkat not out 1
Extras 3w, 6lb, 3nb 0
Total (all out, 38.4 overs) 136
Fall of wickets: 10-136;
Bowling: Steyn 10-1-34-3; Morkel 12.4-5-20-5; Tsotsobe 9-2-50-0; Kallis 6-1-20-1; Harris 1-0-6-0
South Africa, 1st innings
Smith c Dhoni b Harbhajan 62
Petersen c Gambhir b Harbhajan 77
Amla not out 116
Kallis not out 102
Extras 2w, 2b, 2lb, 3nb 9
Total (2 wkts, 87 overs) 366
Fall of wickets: 1-111; 2-166
Bowling: Sreesanth 19-1-71-0; Sharma 18-2-68-0; Unadkat 16-2-60-0; Harbhajan 25-2-107-2; Raina 3-0-27-0; Tendulkar 6-1-29-0