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India spin dry South Africans

India get the result they so badly wanted, squaring the series 1-1 as the final Test finishes within three days, reports Anand Vasu.

cricket Updated: Apr 14, 2008 16:51 IST
Amol Karhadkar

India got the result they so badly wanted, squaring the series 1-1, giving it back to South Africa in kind, finishing the final Test within three days. But though 13 wickets fell on the final day, an air of inevitability hung over the proceedings and the match was devoid of the needle of a tight finish. Poor pitches sometimes make for the best drama, but in this case India literally played out a pre-written script to claim victory.

Best-case scenario

When the penultimate day ended, a contented Sourav Ganguly said, half hoping, half joking, that a "bit of magic" from Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth could mean a lead of 50 and if India could then pick up a couple of wickets before the lead was erased they would be in the driver's seat. That's precisely what happened.

Two of the least talented tail-end batsmen in this team hung around long enough to notch up 46 for the last wicket, the second highest stand by an Indian pair for the position, and infuriate the South Africans. Pace and spin were equally ineffective even as the edges flew this way and that, eluding fielders as crucial runs were added. Sreesanth was even caught off a no ball once before his luck ran out and an uppish push was held at short cover. Sreesanth had made 29 and India reached 325, a vital lead of 60.

Inexplicable approach

Sure, the pitch was a nightmare to bat on and it was hard to commit on either the front or back foot, but the approach South Africa's batsmen took defied explanation. In the first innings they had pushed hard to score as much as possible in the knowledge than an unplayable ball was never far away. In the second dig, where this danger was even more exaggerated, they batted as though trying to hang on for a draw. The one way they could have hurt India was to score runs, somehow cobble together enough to leave India with around 150 to make. Instead, they played right into India's hands.

Off-spin twosome

When Mahendra Singh Dhoni opened the bowling with Harbhajan Singh and left him on from one end till he was absolutely tired, the plan for the day was clear. With Sreesanth opening the door, trapping Neil McKenzie in front with a ball that kept low, the spinners went to work. At the stroke of lunch, Hashim Amla went back to defend a quicker one from Harbhajan and popped a catch to short-leg off his pad. When the players returned from the break, Graeme Smith swept with enthusiasm and control while Jacques Kallis stonewalled long enough to force Dhoni to think of what bowling options he could turn to.

Richie Benaud, the former Australian legend, once said captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill, and if that is true, Dhoni is one hell of a lucky captain. He went to Virender Sehwag when things were not happening for him, and Sehwag got rid of Kallis with the first ball he bowled. Kallis did his best to defend but extra turn and bounce ensured the ball speared off the edge into the hands of the man under the helmet.

The beauty of the day, however, was a loopy delivery just outside Smith's leg stump that the batsman failed to tackle with any degree of seriousness. A lazy flick was well wide of the mark and the ball spun back sharply to bowl Smith round the legs. Sehwag had produced a delivery that any full-time off-spinner would have been proud of. Harbhajan then produced the classic offie's dismissal, getting a ball to turn sharply enough to take the gloves of AB de Villiers before landing in the lap of leg slip.

Ishant Sharma briefly interrupted the off-spin exhibition, first producing a lifter that Mark Boucher could not help but tickle to the keeper and then one that kept low to shatter Morne Morkel's stumps.

Harbhajan wrapped the innings up, ending with 4 for 44, in addition to Sehwag's Test-best 3-12 as South Africa were shot out for 121, leaving India with 62 to chase.

Sealing the deal

Sehwag smashed Paul Harris's first two balls into the stands straight back over the bowler's head and holed out to point next ball. Wasim Jaffer lazily lofted two boundaries over the on side before being adjudged lbw. But even there was no way back into the match for South Africa and Ganguly and Dravid shepherded their team past the total.