India complete stirring victory

Dhonis men register 87-run win to level the Test series 1-1; VVS Laxman bags man of the match award

India complete stirring victory

In inarguably the most South African of conditions, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men bounced back resoundingly from the first Test hammering to complete a gripping 87-run victory, only the second for India in South Africa, in the second Test, setting the stage for a grand finale to the series in Cape Town next week.

It wasn’t the prettiest of victories, but this Indian team has placed as much onus, if not more, on substance as on style. Cheteshwar Pujara’s agility and accuracy at forward short-leg to pluck out the final wicket and trigger wild celebrations even amongst battle-hardened veterans best exemplified the resolve, resilience and determination of this well-oiled outfit.

The fourth day wasn’t without its fair share of drama, but not even one howler from umpire Steve Davis and a marginal decision from Asad Rauf – both of which went against the hosts – could take the gloss off India’s efforts. South Africa battled hard at various stages but some of Ashwell Prince’s strike-farming decisions whilst batting with the lower-order were beyond explanation, and India plugged away at the resistance to complete victory an hour after lunch.

The odds had been stacked against the Proteas when they started day four on 111 for three, needing 192 more for an improbable victory. Only once before in Test history have India been beaten when they have set a target in excess of 300; further, only once in the last 100 years have South Africa chased down more than 300 at home. Everything pointed to an Indian victory, but there was plenty of work to be done, especially with Jacques Kallis’ towering presence looming like a large shadow.

This match has been characterised by wickets at the start of a day, and at the start of each session. India needed to keep that sequence going to further their cause, and the tempestuous S Sreesanth provided that moment of inspiration with an absolute beast to which Kallis had no answer.

From a length, the ball spat at him, not only climbing alarmingly but also following the batsman. On the hop, Kallis took his eyes off the ball and thrust his hands out forcefully. The ball lobbed off the left glove to gully where Virender Sehwag gleefully pouched the ball. Kallis left wringing his hand and later went for an x-ray, which revealed just soft tissue bruising; the insult, it would appear, was more telling than the injury.

With their tails up, having stuck a half-hour into the day, India moved in for the kill. Dhoni set in-out fields, mindful of not leaking runs but also not unaware of keeping the pressure up. Without being anywhere near as impressive as on day two, Harbhajan Singh bowled a tight line, giving nothing away, and found reward when de Villiers was ruled leg before by Rauf.

After that, Zaheer Khan took over. India’s top striker in recent times had looked a little out of sorts on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, he was back in his elements. His control over his craft impeccable, Zaheer gave the batsmen a torrid working over. He might have been a touch lucky to get Mark Boucher leg before when the ball was clearly missing off, but luck played no part in the dismissals of Dale Steyn and the stodgy Paul Harris.

Having set Steyn up with a series of short deliveries in retaliation for having been pinged on the helmet the previous day, Zaheer threw one up and Steyn obliged with an iffy drive that flew to third slip. Then, when the obdurate Prince and Harris were in the middle of an irritating partnership, he produced a peach in the second over after lunch, moving the ball in in the air from round the stumps and then getting it to straighten to peg off-stump back.

Through it all, Prince remained unflustered, but he did little to take control. Morne Morkel threatened briefly to take the fight to the Indians with a chancy 20 and was caught off an Ishant Sharma no-ball, but the tall pacer made amends in the following over. Two deliveries later, Pujara ran Lonwabo Tsotsobe out, and it was party time in the Indian camp!


ScoreBoard

INDIA (I Innings): 205 all out in 65.1 overs
SOUTH AFRICA (I Innings): 131 all out in 37.2 overs
INDIA (II Innings): 228 all out in 70.5 overs
SOUTH AFRICA (II Innings, O/n: 111/3):
Smith c Dhoni b Sreesanth    37
(63m, 38b, 5x4)
Petersen c Pujara b Harbhajan    26
(78m, 45b, 4x4)
Amla c Dhoni b Sreesanth    16
(19m, 16b, 3x4)
Kallis c Sehwag b Sreesanth    17
(78m, 52b, 2x4)
De Villiers lbw Harbhajan    33
(103m, 76b, 1x6)
Prince (not out)    39
(181m, 108b, 3x4)
Boucher lbw Zaheer    1
(13m, 6b)
Steyn c Pujara b Zaheer    10
(25m, 24b, 2x4)
Harris b Zaheer    7
(58m, 28b)
Morkel c Dhoni b Ishant    20
(48m, 47b, 3x4)
Tsotsobe (run out)    0
(4m, 2b)
Extras (LB-1, NB-8)    9
Total (all out, 72.3 overs)    215
Fall of wickets: 1-63 (Smith), 2-82 (Petersen), 3-82 (Amla), 4-123 (Kallis), 5-136 (de Villiers), 6-143 (Boucher), 7-155 (Steyn), 8-182 (Harris), 9-215 (Morkel).
Bowling: Zaheer 17-3-57-3, Ishant 11.3-0-36-1 (nb-6), Sreesanth 14-2-45-3 (nb-2), Harbhajan 29-5-70-2, Tendulkar 1-0-6-0.

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