Kallis, Amla punish India's bowlers

NAGPUR: Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla slammed unbeaten centuries to help South Africa seize the momentum on the opening day of the first Test against India on Saturday.

Kallis scored 159 and Amla made 115 as the tourists recovered from a shaky 6-2 to reach 291-2 at close after electing to bat at the Vidarbha Cricket Association stadium in Nagpur.

The duo shared 285 runs for the unbroken third wicket to post South Africa's highest partnership against India for any wicket.

Kallis has so far hit 13 fours and two sixes in his 290-ball knock while Amla also opened up to play some fine shots after a sedate start to his 225-ball innings.

"Kallis and Amla batted really well," said Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni. "But our bowlers also did a decent job as the wicket was rather slow. They were a bit unlucky as the ball missed the edge on quite a few occasions.

"We had to go for a semi-defensive field as there was not much help for spinners. There was a bit of turn but it was not a rank turner."

Amla reached his eighth Test century in style, hitting part-time spinner Virender Sehwag for a four to the square-leg boundary.

Kallis completed his 34th Test ton to join India's Sunil Gavaskar and West Indian Brian Lara in third place on the all-time list of top century getters.

India's Sachin Tendulkar heads the list with 45 centuries, followed by Australian skipper Ricky Ponting on 39.

India's bowlers laboured without luck after tasting success in the morning session when pace spearhead Zaheer Khan (2-67) sent back openers Ashwell Prince and Graeme Smith in a fiery opening spell.

Prince was out for a duck, caught behind by Dhoni in the fifth over when he failed to fend off a bouncer, although TV replays suggested the ball brushed past his arm guard rather than the gloves.

The pacer struck again in his next over to remove Smith (six) with a ball that moved through the gap between bat and pad, cleaning up the stumps in spectacular fashion.

Kallis and Amla then steadied the innings, putting on 103 runs off 33 overs in the post-lunch period and another 98 in the final session.

Kallis looked confident against the spinners, slog-sweeping Harbhajan Singh twice for a huge six and a four in an over to race to his 53rd Test half-century off 75 balls.

"It was a very difficult start in the morning but we recovered fantastically," said South Africa's batting coach Kepler Wessels.

"It was an awesome performance by Kallis and Amla. Their shot selection was very good. You don't often see Harbhajan go through without a maiden. They had a very good game plan against Harbhajan and executed it perfectly."

Injury-hit India, missing the experienced trio of Rahul Dravid, Venkatsai Laxman and Yuvraj Singh, awarded Test caps to Subramaniam Badrinath and Wriddhiman Saha.

Saha came in only because Rohit Sharma, called in as cover for Laxman, hurt his left ankle during warm-up before the toss.

The second and final Test of the series between the world's top two teams begins in Kolkata on February 14.

South Africa can snatch back the number one Test ranking from India if they win the series while the hosts need just a draw to remain on top.