Centuries from Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla helped South Africa gain the initiative on a slow first day of the first Test against India in Nagpur. Zaheer Khan had rattled the visitors by securing a couple of early breakthroughs in the morning, but Kallis and Amla made India's attack toil with an effective, but at times tedious, approach. At close Kallis was on 159 and Amla 115, the second-wicket pair adding 285 in an undefeated stand as the visitors reached a formidable 291 for two. South Africa chose to bat first, but Zaheer gave India the early edge with an incisive spell with the new ball, removing both the openers inside the first hour. Ashwell Prince was snared with a bouncer in the third over in the morning, while Graeme Smith was extracted in the left-arm paceman's next over.
Prince appeared tentative and edgy, and Zaheer twice had leg before appeals turned down against the left-hander while an edge dropped just short of Murali Vijay at second slip. Zaheer eventually had his man caught behind for a duck with a well-directed short delivery although television replays showed the ball had come off the arm-guard as Prince attempted evasive action. The umpire Ian Gould had already upheld the appeal by then. There was no doubt with Smith's dismissal for six, Zaheer rattling the stumps with a delivery that nipped back off the seam and crashed through the left-hander's defence. The home side's success ended there, in spite of the bowlers sticking tenaciously to the task on an unresponsive surface that is expected to disintegrate enough to take on spin later in the game.
South Africa were six for two when Kallis joined Amla at the crease, both batsmen then showing considerable intent and composure as they slowly gave South Africa the advantage. Runs came at a trickle in the first hour the first boundary was struck in the 10th over when Amla lashed Ishant Sharma past point but Kallis accelerated smoothly, hammering Mishra for boundaries in successive overs and clubbing Harbhajan for a four and a six early in his innings. Both batsmen were hardly troubled in the afternoon session and Kallis steadily approached his century, eventually raising his 34th hundred in Test cricket with a single off Harbhajan to fine leg. Only Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting have more centuries.
Amla plodded and padded through the day he had a couple of good lbw decisions against the spinners turned down and twice offered Zaheer a chance at his scalp before he had reached his century. He twice edged the paceman, the first falling between Vijay and wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the second going past Vijay into a vacant second slip area, while another chance fell short of the fielder at silly mid-on. He eventually reached his eighth Test century by flicking Harbhajan for a boundary, his 11th in a 204-ball stay. In the morning, VVS Laxman was ruled out due to injury and Rohit Sharma, picked as cover for the injured Laxman, was also dropped after suffering an injury during the morning warm-up. Subramaniam Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha were handed debuts.
* PA Sport