Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan led a strong fightback from India, claiming three wickets each, on Day 1 of the second and final Test against South Africa, at the Eden Gardens, in Kolkata, on Sunday.
When play was called off early due to bad light, South Africa were tottering at 266 for nine in 81 overs, after being well-placed on 228 for 2 at tea.
Zaheer had figures of three for 77 in 21 overs, and Harbhajan three for 60 in 23.
Hashim Amla and Alviro Petersen scored centuries to lay a solid foundation for South Africa, but the middle order failed to come to the party. The tourists lost their way completely after the tea break, losing seven wickets for 38 runs in 25 overs in the post-tea session.
Amla, who hit 253 not out in the previous match, was dropped by VVS Laxman at first slip off Harbhajan Singh on 60 and he made the Indians pay as he completed his second straight century. He played a splendid knock of 114 from 166 deliveries, laced with 14 boundaries and a six, before he tried to pull a short delivery from Zaheer, got an edge and was taken by wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
Debutant Petersen became the third South African to score a century on debut before he was caught behind off Zaheer after scoring 100, inclusive of 16 boundaries in his 164-ball knock. The two batsmen added 209 runs in 304 deliveries for the second wicket to give South Africa a solid start.
Jacques Kallis was caught by Laxman behind the wickets as he top edged an attempted sweep off Harbhajan and was dismissed for 10. The off-spinner then completed 350 wickets in Test cricket, claiming the wickets of Ashwell Prince (1) and JP Duminy (0) off successive deliveries.
Zaheer came up with a direct hit from the covers to run-out AB de Villiers for 12 and Ishant Sharma got Paul Harris caught behind for 1.
Amit Mishra bagged his first wicket of the series, trapping Dale Steyn leg before wicket for five, as India staged a stunning comeback, claiming the last eight wickets for 43 runs.
Morning session: (116 runs, 26 overs, 1 wicket)
Petersen came into the team and took over as opener, a role he has performed quite well in domestic cricket, while Ashwell Prince moved into the middle order after struggling at the top.
Smith got his team going by flicking a full delivery from Zaheer through midwicket for a boundary in the first over of the day. However, once again it was Zaheer who got the better of the left-hander with a peach of a delivery. The Proteas captain was comprehensively beaten by a full, incoming delivery that went through his defences and crashed into his off stump. He was out four. (9-1, 3)
Debutant Petersen showed a positive approach as he pulled a short delivery from Ishant Sharma for a boundary through square leg in the fourth over of the day. He repeated the dose on Zaheer in the seventh over, pulling him through midwicket. Off the next delivery he played one fine on the leg side for a boundary. The in-form Amla then hit a full delivery through the covers for the third boundary of the over, as South Africa reached 36 for one after seven.
Petersen showed Zaheer no mercy and cracked one through the cover region for his sixth boundary of the innings to bring up the 50-run partnership for the third wicket in a mere 46 deliveries. Just like in the previous Test at Nagpur, the South African batsmen settled down quite well once the ball lost its shine.
Amla was lucky to survive when he got an inside edge that just missed the stumps and went for a boundary through fine leg, as he attempted to drive Ishant through the off side.
There was no stopping Petersen though; He smashed Mishra through the off-side for his ninth boundary of the innings to move to 47 in the 18th over. The right-hander, however, had a few nervy moments in between, surviving close leg before wicket appeals in successive overs off Mishra and Zaheer.
Petersen celebrated his debut in style when he cut a short delivery from Mishra for a boundary to bring up his half-century. The 29-year-old caught India by surprise as he took just 55 deliveries to reach the landmark, having hit ten boundaries, as South Africa reached 101 for one after 20 overs.
The two batsmen were in no problem whatsoever as they brought up the 100-run partnership off 117 deliveries in the 22nd over.
At lunch, South Africa were 116 for 1 in 26 overs. Petersen was unbeaten on a fluent 57 from 78 deliveries, inclusive of 10 boundaries, while Amla was unbeaten on 49 from 69.
Once again, it was a session dominated by the South African batsmen. The Indian bowlers, except for Zaheer, disappointed again; they not only failed to trouble the batsmen but also gave away a lot of boundaries. The only way India can stop South Africa's charge is by claiming a couple of quick wickets after the lunch break.
Post-lunch session: (112 runs, 30 overs, 1 wicket)
Mishra disappointed yet again with his length. He dropped short and was promptly dispatched to the point boundary by Petersen. It was the batsman's fourth boundary against the leggie. In the next over, Amla brought up his half-century from 70 deliveries with a single on the leg side off Harbhajan Singh.
India's fielding didn't help their cause either. Harbhajan finally found the edge of Amla's bat when the right-hander (60) looked to cut one, but VVS Laxman, at first slip, dropped the easy offering in the 34th over of the innings.
Amla stepped on the accelerator in the post-lunch session and got boundaries quite regularly. He cut a short delivery from Mishra through point for a boundary, and a couple of overs later crashed Zaheer through the covers to move to 75, as the visitors reached 159 for 1 after 37 overs.
Amla was getting a bit edgy and had another close shave in the 38th over. He stepped down the wicket to Harbhajan, tried to loft one straight, but could not connect off the middle. To India's horror, it just flew over Mishra at mid-off for a boundary.
Petersen went into his shell briefly after lunch before he danced down the wicket and lifted Harbhajan straight down the ground for a boundary in the 42nd over. In the following over, he flicked a full delivery from Zaheer through midwicket to move into the 80s and close in on a century on debut.
Then Amla bagged another couple of boundaries in that over to progress to 94, just six short of his second successive century.
The first hour after the lunch break had gone South Africa's way as they scored 79 runs in 18 overs, the two batsmen hitting 11 boundaries between them during that period.
Back for a new spell, Ishant was welcomed to the crease with a boundary through square leg by Amla, which took him to 99 and the total past 200 in the 45th over.
Amla completed his century in some style when he slammed Ishant through the covers for a boundary in the 45th over. The right-hander continued his good form and brought up his century off 124 deliveries, inclusive of 14 boundaries, to take South Africa to 205 for one after 45 overs.
The two batsmen also completed their 200-run partnership for the second wicket in 261 deliveries, in the 46th over of the innings as South Africa looked set for another big total on a flat wicket.
Ishant bowled his heart out in the post-lunch session as he troubled Amla with a few overs of quick short deliveries. A few times he hit Amla on his body and also forced the right-hander into playing foul shots as he looked to go after the short deliveries.
Petersen brought up his century from 160 deliveries and became the third South African batsman to hit a hundred on debut. The debutant got a standing ovation from his teammates and fans inside the Eden Gardens on achieving the feat in the 52nd over of the innings.
Petersen's joy though was shortlived as he fell in the next over caught behind by Zaheer. The left-arm bowler came back for a new spell and gave India the much-needed breakthrough when he got the edge of Petersen's bat with a good out-swinging delivery. The right-hand South African batsman impressed with a solid innings of 100 from 164 deliveries, during which he hit 16 boundaries. He set a good foundation for the remaining batsmen as he added 209 runs from 304 deliveries for the third wicket with Amla. (218-2, 54.2)
But Mishra's woes continued and he was slammed for a six over midwicket by Amla as he once dropped it short, in the 54th over.
At tea on day one, South Africa were 228 for two in 56 overs, with Amla unbeaten on 114 from 164 deliveries, inclusive of 14 boundaries and a six, while Jacques Kallis was yet to open his account.
Once again Zaheer was instrumental in getting India a breakthrough; he got the vital wicket of Petersen for figures of two for 69 in 16 overs. Ishant bowled a good little spell in the post-lunch session but the two spinners didn't get much help from the wicket and struggled to contain the batsmen.
Post-tea session: (38 runs, 25 overs, 7 wickets)
India struck in the first over after the tea break when Zaheer claimed the big wicket of Amla for 114. The right-hander, who hit 14 boundaries and a six in his 166-ball knock, tried to pull a short delivery from Zaheer but ended up edging it behind to wicketkeeper Dhoni. (229-3, 56.4)
Jacques Kallis charged down the wicket and lifted Harbhajan over mid-off for his first boundary and AB de Villiers repeated the dose in his next over to take the score past 250 in the 62nd over.
Laxman then made up for his earlier blip, completing a good running catch off Harbhajan to send back Kallis for 10. The batsman attempted the sweep shot but got a top edge that went behind the wicketkeeper; Laxman, at first slip, ran backwards and held on, much to the relief of his teammates. (251-4, 65.1)
Harbhajan then rocked South Africa with wickets off successive deliveries in his 17th over to bring India back in the contest.
Ashwell Prince made just one before he was trapped leg before wicket as he played down the wrong line and JP Duminy fell in the same fashion off the first delivery he faced. (253-6, 67.2)
Those two wickets also saw Harbhajan go pass the 350-wicket mark in Test cricket, in his 83rd Test.
South Africa suffered further when Zaheer scored a direct hit from the covers to run out AB de Villiers for 12 at the non-striker's end. (254-7, 68.3)
It was a remarkable turnaround by the Indian team as they claimed six wickets for the addition of just 36 runs in the space of 16 overs to leave the visitors shell-shocked.
Ishant Sharma registered his first wicket of the innings having Paul Harris caught behind for 1 while trying to lash at a wide outgoing delivery. (255-8, 70.3)
Mishra finally had something to cheer about when he got his first wicket of the series. He trapped Dale Steyn leg before wicket for five although television replays showed the batsman had got an inside edge. (261-9, 76.1)
With light fading fast, the last pair took the offer of light and South Africa finished the day on 266 for nine in 81 overs. Wayne Parnell was not out on 2 and Morne Morkel unbeaten on 3.
It was a stunning comeback by the Indian team as they took eight wickets for 43 runs. In fact, South Africa lost their way completely after tea, losing seven wickets for 38 runs in 25 overs in the session.
Zaheer led the way with three wickets at the start, including those of turions Amla and Petersen. Harbhajan then continued the good work with a three-wicket burst in the post-ea session to lead India's fightback.
South Africa must be ruing the fact that they frittered a good start from Petersen and Amla, as no other batsmen after was able to cross even 12.
In many ways, it was good that India did not bowl out South Africa earlier, else they would have had to face a few testing overs from the pacers. They will be hoping to finish off the South African innings early on the second day and follow it up with a good show with the bat.