Extreme spin ends SA's nine-year away run
India 215 (Vijay 40, Harmer 4-78, Morkel 3-35) and 173 (Dhawan 39, Tahir 5-38) beat South Africa 79 (Ashwin 5-32, Jadeja 4-33) and 151 for 6 (Ashwin 7-66, Mishra 3-51) by 124 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
South Africa went more than nine years and 15 away trips without losing a series, but it took just seven days of cricket to end the streak. Only on the fourth and the seventh day of the series did we see a contest between bat and ball. On the seventh - the third and final day of this Test - the pitch became so slow that more edges fell short than the ones that carried. Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis provided resistance for 46.2 overs, South Africa's longest partnership of the series, South Africa even managed to get the second new ball out for the first time in the series, but they never managed to get into a threatening position after beginning the day needing 278 runs with eight wickets in hand.
R Ashwin waltzed away to his fourth 10-wicket match haul, but Amit Mishra - like he did in Mohali - broke the big partnership by getting Amla and then took du Plessis out in the last exchanges before tea. The resumption of the chase was stillborn when Ashwin took out Dean Elgar and AB de Villiers in the first 10 overs of the day. Amla and du Plessis, assisted by some good fortune, fought long and hard, but unlike the South Africa spinners, India didn't provide them with bad balls on a pitch where timing half-volleys was also a challenge.
Surprisingly, Ravindra Jadeja went wicketless in 25 overs, but it wasn't as if he didn't look like getting one. At the height of the Amla-du Plessis partnership, Jadeja still kept beating the bat with his sharp turn. Otherwise, the spin was slow, which finally gave the batsmen some trust of their defence and the pitch. Balls began to die in front of the slips. It was evident in how both of them edged twice each without the ball carrying to the cordon. And when Amla nicked Mishra when driving hard, not with soft hands or by playing late.
Amla and du Plessis now began to play off the surface. If the ball would be tossed up, they would press forward to try to reach the pitch of it. When it was bowled flatter, they stayed back and worked with their hands, playing the line of the ball, not following the ones that turned sharply. Yet there were the frequent plays and misses. India knew they needed to stay patient and accurate, which they did. Not for one moment could the batsmen have thought there was an easy run around the corner. Only 72 runs came in that partnership, 25 runs in the first 25 overs of the middle session, and they went 25.1 overs without a boundary.
Eventually that special delivery arrived from Mishra. Amla had spent 72 balls scoring just seven runs and was on 39 when Mishra bowled one that reared up at his defensive shot. During the partnership the two had taken South Africa to their longest innings of the series, threatened to make the second new ball due for the first time in the series, but neither could cross 40, the highest individual score of this Test.
The curse of 40 continued after du Plessis punched Mishra through cover for the first boundary in more than 25 overs, but when he went to repeat the same - having read a wrong 'un - the long hop stayed low to hit his stumps. Like Amla, he, too, scored 39. Ashwin ran through the rest without much trouble, but it was his strikes in the morning - as it has been throughout the series - that set the tone for India's domination.
Ashwin's wickets had less to do with the pitch than Mishra's. This might not have been Johannesburg, but Elgar began by slog-sweeping him for a six in the early exchanges. Ashwin, though, remained naggingly accurate, and later in that over he bowled an offbreak that didn't turn, took the inside edge of the defensive bat on to the pad and popped up for an easy catch. It might have been given out lbw by the on-field umpire, but Elgar was out anyway, for the fourth time to Ashwin in the series.
Now was the time for the crucial partnership, between de Villiers and Amla, the two men who have looked South Africa's best bets in the series. De Villiers tried his best to put Ashwin off his length by jumping out of the crease as often as he could, but he kept failing to do so. In the end, perhaps what was happening off the pitch became so dominant that he didn't watch the ball closely enough out of the hand, and fell lbw to a carrom ball. He was gone for 9. Amla and du Plessis only delayed the last rites after that.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo