Laxman, Dhoni put India on top, SA under pressure

VVS Laxman (143) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (132) slammed sparkling unbeaten centuries to compound South Africa's misery.

updated: February 17, 2010 15:45 IST
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VVS Laxman (143) and Mahendra Singh Dhoni (132) slammed sparkling unbeaten centuries to compound South Africa's misery as India took a stranglehold of the second and final cricket Test with a mammoth 347-run first innings lead on Tuesday.

Laxman notched up his 15th Test ton while Dhoni recorded his fourth as the hosts piled up a monumental 643 for six, their highest total against South Africa, before declaring their first innings about half an hour before close of play on the third day.

The visitors got to face just five balls and were six for no loss before bad light forced play to be stopped early on a day completely dominated by the home team.

Laxman and Dhoni gave a fine exhibition of stroke play as they stitched a record 259-run partnership for the seventh wicket to put India in a commanding position from where they can push for a series-levelling victory.

With two days left and the Eden track expected to deteriorate, the Proteas are faced with a herculean task to save the game.

Resuming at the overnight score of 342 for five, the hosts lost night watchman Amit Mishra (28) before Laxman, who has produced some of his classy knocks at the Eden, and captain Dhoni virtually batted the visitors out of the contest.

Both the experienced batsmen paced their innings brilliantly and the score of 643 for six turned out to be India's highest-ever total against South Africa, eclipsing the previous best of 628 at Chennai in 2008.

The vociferous crowd at the Eden was treated to some scintillating stroke play for the second day running as Laxman and Dhoni toyed with the clueless South African bowlers to consolidate the position for India.

The Proteas had to take some of the blame for finding themselves in such a position as they dropped a few catches and the bowlers also lacked the penetration after the second new ball wore out.

If India manage to win the Test, they will retain their number one position in the ICC Test rankings. However, if the South Africans draw the match and clinch the series 1-0, they will dislodge India from the number one position.

The day began with night watchman Mishra hitting a quick-fire 38-ball 28 to put on a 48-run sixth wicket partnership with Laxman.

Dropped on five by Jacques Kallis in the slip, Mishra took the attack to the Proteas camp. With Laxman displaying control at the one end, Mishra took on the pace of Steyn and the slow spin of Paul Harris to help India build on the lead.

Hoping for some reverse swing from Kallis, Smith delayed taking the new ball by four overs as Mishra played with aggression.

Mishra once again got a life when he was dropped by Smith (short extra-cover) while on 25.

Mishra's innings was ended by pacer Dale Steyn in the very next over when he was caught by Kallis at the second slip.

Laxman was slow in his approach and had luck on his side when he edged one to the left of an outstretched A B de Villiers who failed to pouch it.

Dhoni joined Laxman in the middle for the seventh wicket as India continued scoring briskly taking a 100-run lead over South Africa in the 93rd over.

Dhoni and Laxman milked the South African attack at ease with the skipper attacking Harris, charging one down over long-off for a six.

Both Laxman and Dhoni cashed in on the lackluster fielding efforts by the visitors and made full use of the dropped chances, building up a mammoth stand for the seventh wicket.

With local hero and former captain Sourav Ganguly in the stands, Laxman completed his century to continue his love affair at the Eden, where he played his best knock of 281 against Australia in 2001.

Earlier Dhoni was lucky when on 27 Kallis failed to get hold of the ball at first slip as Harris shouted in frustration, summing up the agony of South Africa.

Both Dhoni and Laxman accelerated the pace of scoring after notching up their centuries.