Eden turns India's garden of joy

Eden turns India's garden of joy

Cricket: Second Test: Harbhajan bags five wickets as the hosts clinch a heart-stopping innings and 57-run victory

Eden turns India's garden of joy

Victorious: Harbhajan Singh breaks into a joyous run after dismissing South Africa’s Morne Morkel to signal India’s win in the second Test at Kolkata on Thursday. AP/PTI

Baulked by a wonderfully restrained and resistive innings from the admirable Hashim Amla (123 n.o., 499m, 394b, 16x4) and stubborn defence from last-man Morne Morkel, India’s designs of a series-levelling victory in the second Test appeared to be coming to a naught as the mandatory overs were being whittled away on a tense Thursday.

Then, Harbhajan Singh (5/59) struck. All day long, the off-spinner who shouldered the bulk of the workload in Zaheer Khan’s absence bowled beautifully; when push came to shove, with a minimum of nine deliveries standing between South Africa and a draw, Harbhajan produced a fast slider that crashed into Morkel’s pads and won the approval of umpire Steve Davis.

Another excellent crowd at the Eden Gardens erupted as India completed a commanding innings and 57-run triumph, squaring the series 1-1 and retaining their status as the number one Test side after South Africa folded up for 290.

It wasn’t a day for the faint-hearted on the final day of a yo-yoing series. Thursday dawned bright and sunny, precisely what the doctor ordered for Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men.

All smiles: India captain MS Dhoni (left) and SA skipper Graeme Smith pose with trophy after sharing Test series. APThe start wasn’t auspicious, Zaheer’s right quadricep strain keeping him back in the changing room and leaving Dhoni one massive wicket-taking option short. It meant the responsibility on Harbhajan, Ishant Sharma and Amit Mishra multiplied manifold. They didn’t necessarily always rise to the challenge, but they delivered when it came to the crunch.  There were pockets of South African resistance at various periods, just as there a phase either side of lunch when India threatened a swift end. The one constant, calm presence was the indefatigable Amla, who surely has turned the corner as an exceptional number three Test batsman with his third hundred of the series.

It was only in Amla that Harbhajan met his match. Otherwise, he was in his elements, thriving on bounce even if there wasn’t too much turn. Harbhajan is at his most dangerous when he tastes early success or when batsmen allow him to dictate terms.
South Africa’s defend-at-all-costs approach suited him just fine as he spun a fine web, Mishra an able understudy.

Amla, though, was in a league of his own. Determined to atone for his poor selection of stroke that triggered the Protean collapse on the first evening, he met every delivery with sureness of feet, softness of hands, broadness of bat and bigness of heart. There was neither panic nor nerves as he came fully forward to smother the spin or went right back and played the ball late after allowing it to do whatever it did upon pitching. For eight hours and 19 minutes, he stood like a rock, and was last man standing, forlorn as India celebrated a great success.

The same can’t be said of the rest, Wayne Parnell and Morkel excepted. When South Africa resumed at 115 for three, Ashwell Prince did show stomach for battle, but one always got the impression that with the out-of-sorts left-hander, it was always a question of when rather than whether.

It took India nearly two hours on the final morning to end the stodgy fourth-wicket alliance, worth only 47 but spanning nearly 29 overs. Once Harbhajan elicited a leading-edged drive to mid-off, the cat was among the pigeons.

Without maintaining the same consistent pressure, Mishra picked up his third big stick of the innings, bamboozling AB de Villiers with a beautifully-disguised googly. Seven for two lost in the last 10 overs to lunch, South Africa were further rocked when Harbhajan dismissed JP Duminy and Dale Steyn shortly on resumption.

In Parnell, Amla finally found a staunch ally as frustration mounted in the Indian ranks. Dhoni swung his bowlers around with little success, time not a factor yet but anxiety rising nevertheless. A sleep-walking Ishant suddenly sprang to life after tea, firing out Parnell and Paul Harris, but there still was Morkel to contend with.

The tall left-hander offered stout resistance, aided by Amla farming the strike brilliantly. For an hour and a quarter, with the sands of time slipping away, India saw the last pair play out 125 deliveries. Number 126 did the trick, Harbhajan’s 24th five-for triggering wild jubilation – and relief! -- on and off the park.

M S Dhoni hugs bowler Amit Mishra as they celebrate the dismissal of South Africa's AB de Villiers, unseen, during the fifth day of the second Test cricket match in Kolkata on Thursday. AP SCOREBOARD
South Africa 1st Innings: 296
India 1st Innings: 643 for six declared

South Africa 2nd Innings (overnight 115 for three)
Graeme Smith lbw b Mishra 20
Alviro Petersen c Badrinath b Harbhajan 21
Hashim Amla not out 127
Jacques Kallis c Dhoni b Mishra 20
Ashwell Prince c Sharma b Harbhajan 23
AB de Villiers lbw b Mishra 3
Jean-Paul Duminy lbw b Harbhajan 6
Dale Steyn lbw b Harbhajan 1
Wayne Parnell c Harbhajan b Sharma 22
Paul Harris c sub Karthik b Sharma 4
Morne Morkel lbw b Harbhajan 12
Extras: (B-6, LB-5, W-1, NB-18) 30

Total: (All out in 131.3 overs) 289

Fall of wickets: 1/36 2/54 3/111 4/158 5/164 6/172 7/180 8/250 9/264
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 6-0-32-0, Harbhajan Singh 48.3-23-59-5, Ishant Sharma25-5-84-2, Amit Mishra 40-12-78-3, Virender Sehwag 10-2-20-0.

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