Wickets aplenty, but rain has the final say
In conditions heavily assisting seam and swing, the bowlers from both sides had an enjoyable evening, but in the end rain, which played spoilsport throughout the day, had the final say at Durban. After being bundled out for a paltry 106, Africa XI hit back strongly, reducing Asia XI to 8 for 2, before the weather gods intervened for the final time, forcing the game to be abandoned and the series to end level at 1-1.
The match started with an extended rain delay, too. Immediately after the toss, the weather forced the players to shelter for 105 minutes. When they came back out, the decision by Graeme Smith - back in the saddle after serving his two-match ban for slow over-rates in the West Indies - to bat didn't seem such a clever one. With a heavy cloud cover overhead, conditions were ideal for swing bowling. Both Zaheer Khan and Shoaib Akhtar utilised them to the hilt, keeping an excellent length and moving the ball both ways to share five of the first six wickets. Shaun Pollock thrashed the bowling in an entertaining cameo, and remained unbeaten on 44 from just 35 balls, but none of the other batsmen made substantial contributions.
The slide started in the first over, as Shoaib ensured that Smith's return wasn't a memorable one, nailing him with a fast delivery which skidded, nipped back, and had him plumb in front (1 for 1).
With his organised technique, Jacques Kallis, who came in next, should have been Africa's best bet of coping with the conditions, but even he struggled: there was a sequence when he played and missed at four deliveries in a row, and his reaction said it all - a rueful smile and a shake of the head, as if to suggest that batting was almost impossible in conditions so heavily loaded in favour of the bowlers.
Boeta Dippenaar fared little better at the other end, and it was hardly a surprise when he drove at one in sheer frustration, and edged to Mahela Jayawardene at third slip, a rare fielding position but one which was entirely justified in these conditions. Jayawardene continued his superb catching form, holding on to a sharp chance in front of his face.
Then, three dismissals with the score on 26 left the innings in a complete shambles. The first of those, though, was a gift from the batsmen: Kallis played one on the off side and took off for a chancy single. Abdul Razzaq'a direct hit from cover found Jacques Rudolph well short. Kallis himself went soon after, trapped in front by Zaheer, though replays suggested the ball might have pitched marginally outside leg. And when Ashwell Prince punched one straight to deep point, Africa XI had lost three wickets in the space of 12 balls without adding a run.
Sensing that the final target might be too few to warrant seven batsmen, Inzamam-ul-Haq then went for the kill, opting to use his super sub, Ashish Nehra. That move didn't work out quite as expected - Nehra's six overs cost him 30 - but Zaheer struck once again, trapping Justin Kemp leg-before. And when Tatenda Taibu, replacing Mark Boucher as the wicketkeeper in the side, edged to slip, Africa XI had slumped to 54 for 7, and lasting even 30 overs looked a tall order.
Pollock then provided the only batting spark of the innings, adding 51 in an entertaining eighth-wicket stand with Heath Streak. Realising that survival was a tall order in such bowler-friendly conditions, he hit out lustily. Nehra, especially, came in for special treatment, and was spanked for 15 runs in an over, including a loft over mid-on, a pull, and an exquisite cover-drive, all for fours.
Recognising the momentum shift, Inzamam cleverly brought his spinners into the attack, and the move worked wonderfully - Shahid Afridi ended Streak's resistance, and the last two batsmen didn't bother the scorers too much.
The Africans hit back immediately in the field, though. Dale Steyn provided the first breakthrough, getting through Virender Sehwag's defences with a dream delivery that was reminiscent of the one which dislodged Michael Vaughan in South Africa last season - it seemed to be angling towards leg, but swung late and knocked back middle and off. Sehwag, looking to clip it to leg, had no chance.
Afridi lasted two balls more than he did yesterday, before top-edging a hoick. What seemed to be cakewalk of a run-chase suddenly looked to be developing into a contest, before the rains intervened for the second, and final, time.
Graeme Smith lbw b Shoaib 0 (1 for 1)
Trapped on the crease by one which nipped back a shade and skidded after pitching
Boeta Dippenaar c Jayawardene b Zaheer 7 (16 for 2)
Wafted loosely outside off, sharp catch taken at third slip
Jacques Rudolph run out (Razzaq) 7 (26 for 3)
Caught well short by a direct throw while attempting a sharp single
Jacques Kallis lbw b Zaheer 4 (26 for 4)
Given out to one which pitched marginally outside leg
Ashwell Prince c Muralitharan b Shoaib 0 (26 for 5)
Slapped a short and wide one straight to deep point
Justin Kemp lbw b Zaheer 8 (35 for 6)
Beaten by a ball which pitched on middle and straightened, but might have been going over the top of the stumps
Tatenda Taibu c Sehwag b Razzaq 10 (54 for 7)
Edged a delivery in the corridor to second slip
Heath Streak lbw b Afridi 14 (105 for 8)
Struck on the front foot, probably just outside off
Dale Steyn lbw b Muralitharan 1 (106 for 9)
Rapped on the back foot by one which spun sharply
Monde Zondeki run out (Youhana/ Sangakkara) 0 (106 all out)
Attempted a sharp single to short point, but found well short
Virender Sehwag b Dale Steyn 5 (7 for 1)
Superb delivery which pitched on leg, moved away, and clipped middle and off
Shahid Afridi c Streak b Pollock 0 (7 for 2)
Top-edged a hoick to square leg, where Streak judged a skier to perfection
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo