India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 5th day February 18, 2010

Grand theatre lights up Indian victory

S Aga
India's bowlers found their straps in an unrivalled atmosphere at the Eden Gardens to prevail in a thrilling encounter

As Amit Mishra bowled the 131st over of the innings, with South Africa a minimum of 18 balls from survival, the stands at the Eden Gardens resembled a cauldron about to bubble over. The only man impervious to it all was Hashim Amla. Leg break, googly, slider - it made no difference to him. As each ball was painstakingly kept out with no hint of fatigue, some fans became exasperated. A policeman stormed off in a huff to smoke in the stairwell, a young man stamped his feet and others just groaned.

Then, as though they were aware of how the collective mood might affect those on the field, the backdrop was transformed. By the time Harbhajan Singh had the ball in his hand at the High Court End, most people in the crowd were on their feet. Many clapped a staccato beat, others roared. A turbaned Sikh at the front of the stand above the clubhouse waved the Indian flag as Sourav Ganguly had once whirled his shirt at Lord's. It could have been the Rumble in the Jungle.

It was pure theatre. When the umpire's finger went up three balls later and Morne Morkel sank to his knees in despair, the Eden roar that once celebrated the halting of an Australian juggernaut could be heard again. In their infinite wisdom, India's cricket administrators had scheduled no Test cricket here since December 2007, giving games to undeserving venues where barely a couple of thousand bother to turn up. Here, the 12th-man factor was undeniable, and it only reasserted why this hallowed ground is the true cathedral of Indian cricket.

Every great amphitheatre needs its heroes though, and India found several on a day when fortunes ebbed and flowed as they can only in the most intriguing form of the game. The loss of Zaheer Khan, usually so effective with the old ball, would have been disheartening but MS Dhoni mixed and matched his resources to get the best possible results.

Predictably, Harbhajan was right in the thick of things. Back in 2001, he had taken 13 of the Australian wickets to fall. And in 2004, it was his 7 for 87 in the second innings that clinched a series victory against Graeme Smith's side. There's something about the buzz at this ground that appeals to his gladiatorial instincts, and he was magnificent on a final-day pitch that was as far from being a bunsen as you could imagine.

Extra flight and a more tempting line ended Ashwell Prince's morning of defiance, while JP Duminy made the mistake of trying to negotiate him from well within the crease. Dale Steyn was clueless about one looped beautifully from round the wicket and then Morkel, after a 126-ball partnership with Amla, was struck on the pad by one that beat his tentative push. After some of the rubbish aired on television in the past week, you could forgive him the angry gesticulations. He had more than proved his point.

As had Mishra. Wicketless in Nagpur and discarded for the second Test in Bangladesh, he has had the unenviable task of trying to fit into Anil Kumble's size 11s. And while Harbhajan will get the plaudits, it shouldn't be forgotten that it was Mishra who removed two South African batsmen capable of playing epic innings, Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis. On the final day, he added the wicket of AB de Villiers, the hero of the Perth run-chase befuddled by a perfectly pitched googly.

Spare a thought too for Ishant Sharma, struggling for form and rhythm and entrusted with a man's job in Zaheer's absence. Some of the balls he bowled betrayed his problems, but he deserves immense credit for persevering. Wayne Parnell had annoyed the Indians for nearly 25 overs when Ishant induced a lazy stroke, and the wicket of Paul Harris, who played his part in the MCG heist of 2008, was just as vital.

And what of Dhoni? The purists will quibble at the fields he set, with the silly point missing for long periods and Amla given freedom to work the ball around, but he kept rotating the bowlers all day in conditions where you had to do far more than land the ball on a rough patch. The introduction of Sachin Tendulkar was almost an inspired move, with Morkel fortunate to survive a Warne-like delivery, and even when the game appeared to be slipping away, the mask of composure that he wears so well remained.

The victory against Australia at the Wankhede in 2004 had this edge-of-seat quality, albeit on a pitch that reduced batsmanship to roulette. But unlike that dead rubber, this was a match with plenty at stake. The media obsessed about the No.1 ranking, but for the players it was primarily about restoring pride after they had allowed South Africa to walk all over them in Nagpur.

Such tests of character and rites of passage are mandatory for any side aspiring for champion status. Over the past two years, India have passed several with flying colours. The greatest one awaits in South Africa at the end of the year. Given how this rivalry has grown in stature, that series can't come soon enough.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Muthuvel on February 19, 2010, 20:50 GMT

    wow Hasim Amla, man you are a freek. I am waiting to see when he gets out next.

  • Dave on February 19, 2010, 16:20 GMT

    Yep demi-god. Agree with you that the gap between these teams is greatly reduced. After this win at the Eden Gardens India might just pip the other two, but plenty of arguments could be made either way.

    Fair point on the stats you mention, although excluding tests against Bang/Zim, they read like this, Aus 11/26, SAf 9/24, Ind 6/23. Hardly dominant stats by any team, but India still a way behind. Home tests for the same period are as follows Aus 24/30, SAf 15/29, Ind 12/26. Fair enough mrgupta (and plenty of others) enjoying India`s stay at the top of the rankings, for what they`re worth, and being excited about future prospects. Not fair enough making claims which aren`t supported by figures such as these. cheers all

  • Muthaiah on February 19, 2010, 13:36 GMT

    Hi to all, Though Amla has played his innings in this match and have the title of "Man of the Match" Harbhajan is the REAL MAN OF THE MATCH winner.

  • Sharad on February 19, 2010, 13:26 GMT

    I completely agree with tsrajkumar. Eden & its crowd were a total disgrace in the 96 World Cup semi-final. Everything seems so wonderful and perfect while on a winning path. It's how you take the blow, that presents your true character.

    I'm happy India won. Also that Eden is Laxman's and Harbhajan's favorite venue. It's a good ground but don't dramatize it Mr. Author ... "cathedral" my foot. It was good to see Sourav Dada (Don as Shastri said) in attendance though.

  • Bis on February 19, 2010, 12:55 GMT

    Totally agree with insanity of BCCI scheduling tests in empty stadiums in the middle of nowhere. incidentally, while we rejoice in test cricket at eden gardens, let us also not forget how lovely it was to see test cricket return to the Brabourne last year. Raising concerns about the future of Indian cricket is not 'soothsaying' - advance planning is part of any cricket superpower's agenda, unless of course there are short term factors interfering with the long term health of the game. Whether it is the scheduling of the tour (only 2 tests), the shameless pandering to regional interests by distributing tests to joke venues, the fiasco over the selection in the Nagpur test, or the sellout of test cricket to ODI and T20, it is the BCCI which stands behind all of this, sabotaging our sport and betraying the heritage of the passion we share. Institutional sreform is needed to reduce the clout of the BCCI, maybe a beefed up ICC with farsighted visionaries like Ian Chappell at the helm.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2010, 12:17 GMT

    Great..!! Once again India... lovely @ Eden. In 2001 Eden revived the Indian cricket n pave the way to these heights wht they holding now. Hope this Eden saaga may also bring some great changes!

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2010, 12:16 GMT

    The match was a real feat to watch. matches of these caliber makes TEST MATCHES the most interesting part of cricket and I hope Test matches Regains it Glory back and always stay ahead.

  • gerard on February 19, 2010, 11:57 GMT

    A draw would have been a travesty of justice. India were robbed of nearly a full days play due to bad weather and on the last day were down to only three front line bowlers so it can be considered a remarkable result. The worrying thing for India is who is going to replace Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman and when and how are they going to beat Australia and South Africa away from home.

  • Dummy4 on February 19, 2010, 11:43 GMT

    amazing !!! cometh the hour, cometh the man !!! Full points to Dhoni for not employing the silly point for Amla, he was outstanding... and there was no way to prize out his wicket... what stood out was the way in which the Team wiped out all the rest 10 batters and that too with just 15 balls to go.. Truly it was a gladiator sort'a scene ...

  • Rohan on February 19, 2010, 11:30 GMT

    Mr Bollo,

    In the last 5 years, Australia have won 13 out of 28 away tests, S.Africa 11 out of 26 and India 11 out of 29...

    I don't really see a major difference between India and the other 2 major test playing countries...maybe that's why mrgupta is excited of the prospects ?

    Like it or not, the gap between these teams has reduced, and hopefully should get even closer in the near future...Consequently, we should get to experience some really competitive test cricket !!

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