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India level South Africa ODI series 2-2

Skipper Rahul Dravid anchored his innings brilliantly to guide the team to victory with 15 balls to spare and prevent South Africa from recording their first-ever one-day series triumph on Indian soil.

india Updated: Dec 29, 2005 15:39 IST

Rahul Dravid led from the front with a gritty unbeaten 78 as India shrugged off the Eden Gardens humiliation with a five-wicket win over South Africa in the fifth and final cricket one-dayer and level the one-day series 2-2 here on Monday.

After restricting the visitors to 221 for six on a difficult batting track, Dravid anchored his innings brilliantly to guide the team to victory with 15 balls to spare and prevent South Africa from recording their first-ever one-day series triumph on Indian soil.

The dependable Jacques Kallis slammed a 146-ball 91 for the South Africans but his effort went in vain as the hosts, despite losing wickets at regular intervals, kept their nerves right through the run chase to overhaul the target, sending a near-capacity crowd at the Wankhede stadium into a frenzy.

It was a commendable all-round display by the Indians who not only made amends for the embarassing 10-wicket defeat in Kolkata but gave ample display of their vastly improved skills, particularly in the fielding department, as they conquered the Proteas in the absorbing floodlit contest.

The platform for the Indian victory was first laid by the bowlers with Irfan Pathan (3/20) and Harbhajan Singh (2/32) doing the bulk of the damage before Dravid and Yuvraj Singh (49) swung the game decisively in favour of the home team with a 79-run fourth wicket partnership.

Dravid struck form at the most opportune moment. The Indian captain's well-composed half century came off 106 balls with 10 fours.

He was also involved in a crucial fourth-wicket partnership of 79 runs with in-form left hander Yuvraj Singh (49 in 54 balls).

It was the hosts' 18th victory in 48 limited overs encounters against the South Africans.

Man-of-the-match Dravid, who had a tally of only 24 going into the series decider after being in sublime form in the previous ODI rubber against Sri Lanka, and Yuvraj - who struck seven fours - rallied forces when India were in a bit of a bother at the fall of champion batsman Sachin Tendulkar for 30 at 83 for 3.

The Indian innings was given a rousing start after the early fall of opener Gautam Gambhir by Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag, who played a cameo knock of 27 in 20 balls by stroking the ball neatly for four fours and a six.

But the departure of first Sehwag, declared leg before by umpire Darryl Harper off veteran pacer Shaun Pollock to a ball that seemed to be going down the leg side after cutting into the batsman, and then that of Tendulkar put the Indians on the back foot a bit.

Tendulkar, coming into this game with only six runs to his credit in the series, seemed to be middling the ball well in front of a huge crowd before he was caught brilliantly at backward point by Ashwell Prince off Andre Nel.

The enterprise shown by man-of-the-series Yuvraj, India's best batsman of the series with scores of 103, 4 not out and 53 prior to this innings, put paid to the South African dreams of a maiden ODI series win in this country.

Yuvraj shared the man-of-the-series with South African captain Graeme Smith.

The only chance that the visitors got to break the stand before it bloomed was muffed by off spinner Johan Botha,who spilled a straight forward return catch offered by Dravid when on 32 in a team score of 109 for 3 in the 24th over.

It was a costly error as Dravid went on to complete his 65th half century - 12th against the Proteas - in 78 balls and more importantly anchored the hosts to the series-drawing victory after he lost Yuvraj when the home team were 60 runs adrift of the target.

Later Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave him good support by getting involved in a 39-run stand for the fifth wicket with his captain to ensure India would not squander the winning chance.

The Indian wicket-keeper made 12 before being caught behind for 12 in the 44th over when the hosts were 21 runs short.

Mohd Kaif, 16 not out, struck the winning boundary hit off Charl Langeveldt in front of the capacity crowd of 40,000.

It was also India's 7th win out of 13 at this venue and for a change no experiments were made by the think tank in the batting order.

Earlier, the South African innings was built around ace all-rounder Kallis' half ton, his second half century of the series. He was largely content in ensuring there was no batting collapse.

Asked to bat first the visitors struggled against the Indian attack, especially Irfan Pathan and Harbhajan Singh.

The South African innings was built largely on Kallis's 81-run stand for the fourth-wicket with wicketkeeper Mark Boucher (35 in 56 balls) as the duo rallied the visitors' floundering innings around from 77 for 3 in the 21st over to 158 in the 41st.

Towards the end Shaun Pollock, who smote the only six of the innings when he slammed Murali Kartik for a straight six, used the long handle to make a quick-fire 30 and remained unconquered after facing 17 balls. He struck four fours and a six.

The Indian fielding within the circle and in the deep as well was also simply outstanding. The boundary hits, thus, were at a premium as the South African batsmen struggled to time the ball.

For 100 balls, spread from the 15th to the 35th overs, no boundaries were scored by the Proteas batsmen.

The pick of the Indian new ball bowlers was Irfan Pathan whose first spell of 7 overs was not only miserly, as he gave away only 12 runs, but was also rewarding.

The left armer picked up the wickets of both the visitors' openers Andrew Hall (4), with a beautiful late in swinger which comprehensively bowled the batsman, and left handed captain Graeme Smith (24 in 29 balls with 3 fours). He came later in the slog phase to add Kallis's scalp.

First Published: Dec 27, 2005 18:17 IST