There is only so much that prayer can achieve — beyond that, you have to get out there and play. India probably remembered to do one thing and forgot, for a while, how to do the other as, faced with some vicious pace bowling from the South Africans, the batsmen collapsed ingloriously at Kingsmead to hand the hosts a massive 174-run win that has thrown this series open.
For a while on Saturday morning, though, it seemed as if India's prayers must have worked, with Durban waking up to grey, overcast conditions that had South Africans looking anxiously up at the sky every five minutes or so and Indian supporters trying their best not to smile. And as you got to Kingsmead and the heavens darkened ominously and even the floodlights seemed unable to pierce the overwhelming gloom, only a reckless gambler would have placed a bet on having even half-a-day's play. It was dark, it was gloomy and if you were a South African player, it was hell.
But just after 10am, umpires Asad Rauf and Ian Howell, who have come in for major criticism from the (obviously) South African quarters, walked out and held that magic metre up and nodded sagely at each other, even as a roar went up from the sparse but vocal crowd here, already well into their third beers or so. By 10:25, Sachin Tendulkar was out there facing Makhaya Ntini and at 10:29, he was making his way back, beaten for pace by one that nipped back and trapped him in front.
A little later, Wasim Jaffer, who was looking so good earlier, seemed to have managed to confuse himself as to the difference between being positive and being silly. Ntini, spewing fire and making the batsmen hop to his own version of a fatal tribal dance, bowled one that was short and wide. Jaffer leaned ahead, managed to get his bat to it and attempted a difficult feat, to mightily pull one in and then across. It was of course going to do nothing but scoop up and he started walking back even before Nel, running to his left from mid-on, took an easy catch that had him and Ntini jumping like warriors dancing over the remains of their enemies in macabre fashion.
And then, as if fate was doing her own capricious dance over the Proteas' fortunes, the skies shadowed again and VVS Laxman — who had walked in at the fall of Tendulkar's wicket — and Sourav Ganguly, who had looked nervy as he battled Ntini, gratefully walked off smiling, even as the South African slip cordon seemed to whisper a few conventionalities as they walked by.
But yes, it was too good to be true and the sun, malicious creature that it is, decided to show up a bit and have a few laughs. Well, Ganguly, who had walked out regally during the 80-minute break that saw lunch being taken early, to tap around the crease, walk up and down the wicket, and stare up at the clouds, didn't last too long despite a couple of streaky shots and a lovely pull. A while later, he got up on his toes and tried to steer the ball over gully-point, only succeeding in finding Gibbs and handing Ntini his fifth wicket.
The next ball, a snorter, whacked Dhoni on his already bruised right hand and while his long injury break was probably justified, after that began a long period of caution mixed with gamesmanship by the Indian lower order (Laxman was felled by a Nel delivery that nipped back and castled him soon after Ganguly).
To be fair to them, Kumble, Dhoni, Zaheer and Sreesanth played very well, and the last two would also have done any Bollywood actor proud in the way they used up time, chatting up the umpires (who had their light-metre out every now and then), chirruping at the enraged South Africans and chattering to each other, probably about what to do next. Expectedly, India ran out of ideas and wickets and while they would feel done in by the last one, which seemed like it went off a hopping mad Sreesanth's shoulder, you had to believe what happened was inevitable, despite the conditions.
In the final analysis, under this greying Durban sky, South Africa were just too good for India. They bowled better, batted better and kept faith in their ability to beat the odds and the weather. On Friday evening, Mark Boucher had remarked that South Africa needed 50 overs to bowl out India and win the game. In the end, they needed eight less, helped by the fact that India batted like they had decided they needed to keep interest in the series alive.
But despite India's weak-willed collapse, there is no taking away from the hosts' spirited fightback on the day, led by the redoubtable Ntini, justifiably Man of the Match.
For those who've been here in Durban, Ntini's larger-than-life presence, from his shrill war whoops on Christmas Day to his furious skipping today coupled with that magical bowling effort, will remain a fantastic memory.