Durban: Team India gave a befitting reply to South African skipper Graeme Smith’s challenge of holding on to the number one Test rank by beating the Proteas in their own den by 87 runs.
The Test was marked with two stellar performances, one by Zaheer Khan and the other, by VVS Laxman. Zaheer took a total of six wickets in the match and was supported by Harbhajan (6 wkts) and Sreesanth (4wkts) in the two innings that changed the scenario of the series going into the decider at Cape Town.
However, it was Laxman who came good at the time he was needed the most, standing out among the batsmen on the tearing fast Kingsmead turf and gave his team a solid total to work with.
Ishant Sharma was finally rewarded for his dogged bowling effort with the penultimate wicket of the South African team, Morne Morkel. The batsman did give a slight scare with his 20-run cameo but could not be two time lucky against Ishant in his successive overs.
Soon after, the last wicket fell in the form of a run-out, levelling the series 1-1 with India staging a solid comeback in the three Test rubber.
The first session of play on the penultimate day of the second Test belonged to India as all the bowlers stuck to their game plan, not allowing any match-robbing partnership to build up. This set the tempo for a win and the subsequent retention of India’s numero uno ICC Test ranking.
Their efforts saw the South African scorecard reading 182/7 at lunch, after losing four wickets in the crucial part of the match, needing 121 more runs to win.
Zaheer Khan was extra lethal when the post-lunch session began as he clean bowled Paul Harris without a single run being added to the scorecard.
The Indian bowlers were right on track throughout the morning with speedster Zaheer Khan coming into action at the right time, getting Mark Boucher out and following it up with Dale Steyn’s scalp. The South African tail was exposed to the Indian battery in the first session of play itself, putting them within touching distance of a historic win.
Prior to this, Harbhajan Singh had sent tremors down the South African dressing room as he claimed AB de Villiers before he could offer any resistance to the Indian charge. With half of the South African team back into the pavilion, India sniffed victory on the penultimate day while the home team desperately looked for a big partnership that would save the match.
This came after Sreesanth spit fire at the South African resistance to get the most dangerous man in their squad, Jacques Kallis (17), out cheaply with a brilliant delivery.
Needing 192 more runs to win, the duo of AB de Villiers and Jacques Kallis would have hoped to start the penultimate day of the Test without losing their wickets cheaply. However, the visitors had other plans, with the aim of levelling the series and retaining their supremacy in Tests.
Sreesanth, with his fine performance stood out in the morning session and the quick adaptation by the visiting bowlers was the fine tuning that have given them a fighting chance to salvage the three Test rubber after the loss at Centurion.
From there on, it was the speed battery doing the magic with Zaheer pitching in brilliantly and Harbhajan complimenting the pace trio.