CENTURION, SOUTH AFRICA// The crowd scattered around the seats and grassy banks at SuperSport Park in Centurion had to wait four-and-a-half hours for action to commence. But once it did they were in fine voice and good cheer as a bowling attack superbly led by Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel left India acutely embarrassed on the opening day of a series billed as an unofficial world championship.
At the schedule start time of 10.30am, the prospect of play had been extremely remote, with grey skies and persistent rain, but once the sun peeped out, the superb drainage system and ground staff ensured that 38 overs were possible before stumps were drawn.
That was more than enough time for South Africa to prosper on a well-grassed pitch that had been under the covers for days.
The moment Graeme Smith sent India in to bat, those watching rubbed their hands in anticipation of Steyn against Virender Sehwag.
That contest lasted all of three balls, with Sehwag playing well away from his body while miscuing one to third man.
Gautam Gambhir, his partner in the most prolific opening partnership that India has had, was then worked over ruthlessly and extremely fortunate to survive an appeal for a catch behind off his glove.
Steyn left the Centurion-based Titans at the end of last season, but a vocal crowd egged on both him and Morkel, the local hero, as they cleverly mixed short deliveries with fuller ones.
After being peppered with bouncers, it was a fuller one from Morkel that sent Gambhir on his way, edging to Paul Harris at slip.
Hope of an Indian resurrection rested with a middle order of matchless experience.
But when Morkel nipped one back to trap Rahul Dravid lbw, and Steyn summoned up a 142.9km per hour outswinger to knock out VVS Laxman's middle stump, the burden was once again squarely on Sachin Tendulkar's shoulders.
He played some gorgeous strokes, pulling Lonwabo Tsotsobe - the weak link in the hosts' attack - with contempt on a couple of occasions, but again Steyn had the answer, a full delivery at searing pace that crashed into the pads to end a 34-ball cameo at 36.
Suresh Raina had done his future Test prospects no good at all before that, edging Jacques Kallis to slip, and it was left to MS Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh to save India the humiliation of a two-digit total.
Harbhajan was his cavalier, belligerent self, swatting Tsotsobe for six and then asking him to get on with it, but after a 39-run stand, he carelessness gifted South Africa the breakthrough they were desperate for.
Harbhajan was ambling through for a second run when Alviro Petersen picked the ball up on the cover boundary and threw to Mark Boucher. With his back to the stumps, Boucher arrowed a throw between his legs to catch him inches short.
Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth, who will look forward to bowling on this surface, followed in quick succession, leaving Dhoni to ensure that India would not be bowled out inside half a day.
Much was made of the week that several Indian players spent at Gary Kirsten's academy in Cape Town in the build-up to the series.
Kirsten himself had spoken of how he would make sure that each of the batsmen faced 3,000 deliveries before they fronted up to South Africa's pace attack.
But on a spicy pitch, against the best new-ball attack in the game, all that preparation counted for nothing. Steyn harassed them with pace and away movement, while Morkel's height made him next to impossible to handle. And as the delivery that got Dravid showed, there is far more in his armoury than just the ability to pound the ball into the pitch.
With Tsotsobe so innocuous and Paul Harris unlikely to give them sleepless nights, India now know that the key to this series lies in surviving the new ball.
Without Sehwag sticking around to disrupt the pace duo's rhythm, that proved too stern a challenge yesterday.
India, 1st innings
Gambhir c Harris b Morkel 5
Sehwag c Amla b Steyn 0
Dravid lbw b Morkel 14
Tendulkar lbw b Steyn 36
Laxman b Steyn 7
Raina c Prince b Kallis 1
Dhoni not out 33
Harbhajan run out 27
Sharma c Kallis b Morkel 0
Sreesanth c Steyn b Morkel 0
Unadkat not out 1
Extras 3w, 6lb, 3nb 12
Total (9 wkts, 38.1 overs) 136
Fall of wickets: 1-1; 2-24; 3-27; 4-66; 5-67; 6-71; 7-110; 8-110; 9-116
Bowling: Steyn 10-1-34-3; Morkel 12.1-5-20-4; Tsotsobe 9-2-50-0; Kallis 6-1-20-1; Harris 1-0-6-0