Some balls turned. Others didn't. The batsmen were uncertain. And 12 wickets fell on the day, nine of them to spin, as the Test season in India began with a distinctly subcontinental flavor. Some like M Vijay felt untroubled at the crease. Others didn't last long enough to figure things out. South Africa would feel aggrieved that Faf du Plessis and Stiaan van Zyl fell in the latter pile after they bowled India out for 201.

At 28 for 2 after the first day's play and having gone in a batsman short - JP Duminy has not recovered from his hand injury - South Africa will need a big first session tomorrow, and have two grand players of spin in Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers to pin their hopes on.

But if part-time spinner Dean Elgar could swindle four wickets in eight overs, India's frontliners should be chomping at the bit. R Ashwin already has a wicket. Ravindra Jadeja, on his Test return, played his second-longest innings and struck with his second ball and Amit Mishra ripped a couple of legbreaks that could easily have taken Amla's edge or his off stump.

"Never seen so many cracks in Chandigarh ever," said Sunil Gavaskar. "If you're a spinner, what more do you want," said Anil Kumble. It was dry and consensus was it had been rolled less than usual. Safe to say that the pre-series demand for turning tracks has been met.

The agenda was to bat first and bat big. Virat Kohli won the toss on his 27th birthday and his first Test as captain at home to give his team the opportunity to do so. Only the voodoo that part-time spinners do hit India hard as Elgar, better known to be an opening batsman, one-upped two key players. Cheteshwar Pujara, who could have built India's innings around him, was trapped lbw with a straight ball and Ajinkya Rahane, who has shown he can resurrect top-order wobbles, nicked the one that turned sharply.

That Elgar has the knack to shock opposition line-ups is not entirely a surprise. His first Test wicket was Misbah-ul-Haq, when he was cruising towards a century in Dubai in 2013. He bested Steven Smith as well, at a time when South Africa were at their wits end after a 184-run partnership in Cape Town in 2014.

They weren't facing as dire a situation today, but Amla trusted his experiment so much that the frontline spinner Imran Tahir had to wait till the 43rd over to bowl and Elgar was celebrating like King Kong - banging on his chest with each India batsman he swatted away. At one point he was on a hat-trick when Wriddhiman Saha nicked a beautifully flighted delivery to first slip to reenact Rahane's dismissal. The trick was simple - he bowled at an enticingly slow pace to pull errant drives and the batsmen either nicked off or the gap between bat and pad was exploited.

India owed a good portion of their runs to a fifty from Vijay, who looked as in control as the rest looked flustered. The difference perhaps came as a result of the batting styles: Vijay played late and delicately, the others tended to jab and push to feel bat on ball. He was exquisite on the drive and the flick because he picked the line and length early and then committed to a stroke. The conviction behind them was apparent, the power never ever so. He breezed to 75 runs, with 12 fours, in only 136 balls. Then there was Jadeja, returning to the side after six back-to-back five-wicket hauls in the Ranji Trophy, and showing an improved tenacity to bat as well. But otherwise there wasn't much.

Shikhar Dhawan, backed by the team management to deliver, retained his place as opener but couldn't muster any fight. He had knocked back three balls and flashed at the fourth wide outside off stump to bag a duck and give Vernon Philander and South Africa the early strike they needed.

Topping up on that seemed unlikely when Pujara joined Vijay and put up a sturdy 63 runs for the second wicket. They left the ball watchfully, ran well between the wickets and ushered the bad balls to the boundary as good Test batsmen should.

Good Test bowlers make that difficult and Steyn did persuade Vijay, who was yet to score, to feel outside his off stump. But the edge went too quickly for Harmer at gully. Then there are bowlers like Elgar, who rock up at the right time and deliver the right ball. It was the orthodox left-arm spinner's delivery but it just did not turn as Pujara was clearly expecting and was trapped leg-before, another of those dismissals where he missed a straight ball.

Kohli fell to his own intent. He plays with hard hands. He likes coming at the ball. He wants to force it onto his bat and one of those times coincided with a Kagiso Rabada delivery that came quite a bit slower off the track. The leading edge was taken and Elgar, again, pouched a catch diving forward at short cover. That South Africa have made all these inroads without Morne Morkel, who has not sufficiently recovered from his foot injury, indicates the depth of their resources and the disciplines they have maintained. But they, like India, went in with five bowlers and six batsmen and will need every one of them to step up tomorrow.

Courtesy Cricinfo