India sweep to eight-wicket win to level series
Either team could have won the game when the day started, but India were the side that won every session today, and convincingly. Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma lasted almost an hour in the morning, mixing solid defence with bold strokes in putting together India's second-highest last-wicket stand against South Africa. Both had several moments of good fortune: the edges eluded the slips, Sreesanth was caught off a no-ball while Ishant got away with a plumb lbw shout. That partnership ended up having a huge impact on the rest of the game - while the South Africans were suddenly up against a significant first-innings deficit on a crumbling pitch, the Indians were buoyed by that unexpected bounty, and rode on that momentum.
The pitched seemed to have eased up slightly through the first hour today, but when the Indians took the field, there was plenty of variable bounce to exploit. Harbhajan Singh started proceedings - the first time he bowled the first over in a Test innings - and while that move didn't pay off immediately, he snared Hashim Alma in his seventh over, as Wasim Jaffer hung on to a bat-pad chance. By then South Africa had already lost Neil McKenzie, trapped in front when he missed a pull to one that kept low, and at 27 for 2 at lunch there was no doubt about which team had dominated the morning session.
Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis, South Africa's two most experienced batsmen, then put together a stubborn partnership of 38. The spiteful pitch tested both - Kallis was struck on the glove by one from Ishant Sharma which reared off a good length, while Smith was troubled by Harbhajan's round-the-wicket line. Both, though, stood firm, concentrating hard and not letting the jaffas bother them. Kallis struck just one four in his 45-ball stay, but that was an emphatic blow - a flick off Sreesanth, standing tall with front leg in the air. The introduction of Piyush Chawla eased the pressure on the batsmen as well, as Smith drove and swept him for fours.
The momentum seemed to be shifting, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni turned to Sehwag, and the move turned out to be a masterstroke. Sehwag's first ball kicked up spitefully, took the edge of Kallis' bat, and went straight to Jaffer at short leg. Four overs later, there was more to celebrate for India as Smith was bowled by a full delivery which pitched outside leg and spun back sharply to strike the stumps.
Those two wickets broke South Africa's resistance, and after tea there was a procession of wickets as six went down for 33 in 16.5 overs. With Chawla turning out to be such a disappointment, Dhoni relied on Harbhajan, Sehwag and Ishant, and the three combined superbly. Ishant angled it in from outside off, pitching it on a good length and allowing the uncertain bounce to do the rest, while Sehwag cleverly bowled at a quicker pace on the slow track, which gave the batsmen little to react to the extra bounce. After his two wickets had given India a sniff, Harbhajan took over.
Getting plenty of turn and disconcerting bounce, he forced AB de Villiers to glove a catch to VVS Laxman at backward short leg. Yuvraj Singh then muffed an easy run-out chance, when both Ashwell Prince and Mark Boucher were stranded at the non-striker's end, but that error cost India just two runs, as Ishant dug in a short one which kissed Boucher's glove on the way to Dhoni.
By now with the pitch playing plenty of tricks, South Africa's tail had no chance. Morne Morkel was defeated by one which kept low and crashed into off stump, Paul Harris' defensive prod was snaffled up at slip, while Dale Steyn fell in the desperate attempt for quick runs. Prince batted through the fall of wickets at the other end, and finally got his first four off his 70th delivery, but that was the last hurrah for South Africa, as Sehwag, quite fittingly, ended the innings by nailing Ntini.
Faced with a target of 62, India raced to victory in just 13.1 overs. Sehwag creamed Harris for two successive sixes to threaten an earlier finish, but then fell next ball. Jaffer was trapped by an indipper from Morkel, but those were mere crumbs for a South African side which failed to negotiate their final test in India after having done so well through the rest of the tour.
S Rajesh is stats editor of Cricinfo