Thursday, February 18, 2010

India overcome South Africa's defiance to win nailbiter in Kolkata


Harbhajan Singh

India's Harbhajan Singh celebrates after taking the wicket of South Africa's Jean Paul Duminy. The spinner took five wickets in the tourists' second innings. Photograph: Stringer/India/Reuters

Harbhajan Singh took five wickets as India secured a dramatic innings and 58-run victory on the final day of the second Test against South Africa at Kolkata.

India's victory at Eden Gardens tied the two-Test series at 1-1 and retained their place at the top of the International Cricket Council rankings.

India, starting the day needing seven more wickets for victory, chipped away steadily at South Africa's line-up but Hashim Amla provided another twist in a match that ebbed and flowed with a brilliant, unbeaten 127.

Amla – who took the man of the match award and man of the series awards for centuries in each innings at Eden Gardens and 490 in total for once out – had raised hopes of a draw for South Africa in a last-wicket stand with Morne Morkel (12) that had spanned more than 20 overs and was reminiscent of the defiance England had shown against in their recent series, but Harbhajan returned to snare Morkel with around 15 minutes remaining in the day.

Having already lost over a day to rain and bad light, India suffered another blow before play resumed as their strike bowler Zaheer Khan was forced to sit out the final three sessions due to a leg muscle strain sustained during play yesterday.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni opened with the part-time spinner Virender Sehwag and the fast bowler Ishant Sharma, but shuffled his bowlers around and soon had spinners operating from both ends.

Harbhajan and the leg-spinner Amit Mishra stuck admirably to the task, striking a probing line, but were thwarted for more than an hour in an extended morning session by Amla and Ashwell Prince, who made 23.

Amla, on 49 overnight, went past the half-century mark and had painstakingly constructed a 47-run stand with Prince before the latter was dismissed by Harbhajan. The off-spinner had the out-of-form left-hand batsman in all sorts of trouble and eventually removed him with a ball that was pitched just outside off, Prince chipping carelessly to Ishant at mid-off.

Mishra then claimed his third scalp, trapping AB De Villiers (three) plumb in front with a googly while he played down the wrong line and the Proteas were still 183 runs behind at lunch, but with only five wickets in hand.

India began the afternoon session with vigour and Harbhajan had JP Duminy dismissed for six when the batsman rocked back to defend a delivery that was pushed slightly quicker through the air, misjudged the line completely and was hit on the back pad right in front.

South Africa were still 175 behind at that stage and Amla, the last recognised batsman, was left waging a lone battle alongside the tail.

Dale Steyn went quickly, leg before to Harbhajan who had shifted his line of attack from over to around the stumps but Wayne Parnell (22), showing a far better technique against the spinners than most of the middle-order batsmen, stalled India's attack but was let off on 14 when Suresh Raina, on the field for the injured Gautam Gambhir, grassed a catch at fourth slip.

Amla had moved into the 90s with consecutive boundaries off Ishant and raised his ninth Test century and third of the series with another off Mishra, who had shared the second new ball. Parnell, however, was extracted in the fourth over after the tea interval, momentarily losing composure and handing Ishant his first success despite a strong showing from the medium-pacer.

Parnell went tamely, chipping a full delivery straight to Harbhajan at mid-on, his dismissal ending a stubborn eighth-wicket stand that had yielded 70.

Paul Harris (four) hung around for a while, negotiating 24 deliveries, but his resistance too was ended by Ishant, as he perished to an edge.

Morkel then joined Amla and India were put under severe pressure as the pair stood firm. Even Sachin Tendulkar, who rarely bowls these days following a shoulder injury, twirled his arm without success.

But Harbhajan eventually trapped Morkel in front, sparking wild celebrations. The spinner finished with five for 59, while Mishra took three for 78.

Amla was named man of the match though. He finished the series with an average of 494 – the second highest, behind Wally Hammond, in the history of Test cricket.

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