Nagpur:The experienced Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla struck unbeaten centuries as South Africa recovered from two early jolts to take control of the first Test against India here on Saturday.
Kallis (159 not out) notched up his 34th Test century and found an able ally in Amla (115 not out) as the duo put on a marathon 285-run partnership to steer the visitors to a comfortable 291 for two at close on the opening day.
It was a remarkable recovery for the South Africans, who were reeling at a precarious six for two within the first half an hour of the contest with pace spearhead Zaheer Khan claiming both the wickets.
But that turned out to be the only moments of success for the injury-hit Indians as South Africans not only fought their way back but were in a position of strength on what appeared to be a good batting track at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium.
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The 34-year-old Kallis paced his innings brilliantly as he mixed caution with aggression, while his younger partner Amla played the sheet anchor's role to perfection en route to his eighth century.
India went into the game with two debutants in S Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha after last-minute injury setbacks to Rohit Sharma, who was incidentally a cover for VVS Laxman.
Kallis equalled the tallies of legends Sunil Gavaskar and Brian Lara with his 34th hundred and with Amla he put on the best-ever partnership for any wicket.
South Africa made a shocking start after captain Graeme Smith won the toss as they lost the skipper and his opening partner Ashwell Prince to the pace of Zaheer Khan within the first half an hour's play.
But a determined Kallis, who faced 290 balls and struck 13 fours and two sixes, and his more sedate partner Amla (225 balls, 11 fours) buckled down to the task of repairing the early damage with a determined and concentrated effort.
The duo's unbeaten stand of 285 runs in 512 balls also bettered the previous best between the two countries of 268 for the second wicket by Virender Sehwag and Rahul Dravid. Dravid is missing this match because of a broken jaw.
This was Kallis' third century against India, and significantly all in the latter's backyard, as he and Amla laid the foundation for a big South Africa first innings total by batting almost the entire day.
Kallis, playing in his 136th Test and 12th against the home team, was the more aggressive during the stand in which the 26-year-old Amla, who cracked his second ton against
India, eschewed risk totally till he reached his 30s. Neither pace, in the form of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma, nor the spin of Harbhajan Singh, Amit Mishra and Virender Sehwag troubled the duo barring the odd occasion as they denied the hosts a wicket for the better part of the day.
To make matters worse for India, their injury woes hit rock bottom with Laxman being declared unfit and his cover Rohit Sharma spraining his ankle before toss.
Amla was the beneficiary of India's lax fielding twice when he was let off by Murali Vijay at slip off Zaheer's first over post-tea and then dropped by Badrinath at short mid-on off Ishant Sharma. The batsman was on 61 and 82 when he got those reprieves.
These couple of chances and a few shouts of leg before against Kallis initially, were the only plus points for India after Zaheer's twin strikes in successive overs got rid off Smith and makeshift opener Prince very early in the day.
Zaheer, who came into the match after having taken a career-best 10-wicket haul at Mirpur against Bangladesh in India's previous Test, bowled a fiery spell to dismiss Smith and Prince in successive overs, his third and fourth.
Prince was out to a snorter that Khan was able to come up with even on this brownish, slow-natured pitch of low bounce. The batsman awkwardly fended at it and the ball struck the arm guard and ballooned to wicket keeper Dhoni.
The umpire raised his finger as he walked away towards square leg much to the delight of the home team. TV replays suggested the ball might have gone off the arm guard. Just the previous ball the 32-year-old makeshift opener had survived a confident shout for leg before.
Smith, who got bowled through the gate by an incoming ball, was set up by Khan who fed him outside the off stump a couple of times before bringing in one sharply.
Thereafter the Kallis-Amla double act stole the show exposing the inadequacies of the home team bowling in which Zaheer Khan stood out with his aggression and skills.
Zaheer, after his superb initial burst of 6-4-2-2, ended up with 2 for 67 in 20 overs. Ishant bowled well without looking particularly menacing and went wicket-less for 44 runs while frontline spinners Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra totally disappointed on a wicket already affording copious turn.
Harbhajan was monotonous with his pre-dominant over-the-wicket line while leg spinner Mishra bowled too many loose balls which were punished by Kallis in particular.
India summoned the second new ball half an hour before stumps with the Proteas score on 270 for two but were unable to separate the well-set third wicket pair.