When the tide turned
In a series where the scales constantly tilted,Cricinfo picked out eight phases where the momentum shifted. It often took just one manic passage of play for the game to turn with neither team dominating extended periods. The pendulum swings made it one of the best series in recent memory
The first Test hung in a fine balance on the second morning at Johannesburg when India's No.11 VRV Singh sauntered in. India had just lost 4 for 39 and seemed to have squandered high ground but VRV, in a hectic 27 minutes, wrenched back the initiative. Backing away outside leg stump and swinging his arms with rustic abandon, VRV splintered six fours and added 44 for the last wicket with Sourav Ganguly. Amid raucous cheers fom the stands and uncontrollable laughter, VRV had coolly caused a momentum shift from which South Africa never recovered.
The Zak and Sree show
17.1 overs, 45 runs, seven wickets. It was a spell of bowling like few others seen in Indian cricket history. Sreesanth and Zaheer Khan engineered an abrupt annihilation, turning the contest into a one-horse race. The sight of South African batsmen groping outside off, hopping and edging in their own backyard was clear indication of how rattled they were. India surged ahead from that point and wrapped up the Test in due course.
Prince ploughs South Africa out of trouble
South Africa's top order continued its struggle in the second Test at Durban, floundering at 28 for 3, when Ashwell Prince entered. His outstanding 97 at Johannesburg had been drowned in a wave of Indian elation but he wasn't to be overshadowed here, gnawing his way to his third century of the year. He realised 94 runs with Herschelle Gibbs and another even 100 with Mark Boucher, allowing South Africa to cross 300 and gain some sort of advantage.
Ntini leads bowling revival
Unlike at the Wanderers where they tried to bowl too short on a pitch that demanded fullish deliveries, South Africa's bowlers rejigged their plans. Makhaya Ntini was at the heart of the revival, sticking to a back-of-a-length strategy and targeting India with disconcerting bounce. Ntini's wickets of Tendulkar and Ganguly in quick succession - one to an overambitious shot, the other to a thunderbolt of a bouncer - provided the much needed boost and to establish their dominance.
Smith finally strikes
It was an innings that was to have a bearing not only on the match but on the series as well. Graeme Smith had endured a horror patch since the start of the ODI series and his return to form, with a confident half-century, was a vital fillip for South Africa. From that point on, Smith didn't let up on his steely resolve and led by example through the series.
India get an 'Indian' pitch
Rahul Dravid gave his team-mates a New Year gift by winning the toss and batting first on a belter at Newlands. Wasim Jaffer and makeshift opener Dinesh Karthik cruised through the opening two sessions, adding 153 and setting the base for a huge total. The cracks were already developing on the surface and everything seemed to be in India's favour on a distinctly sub-continental pitch. South Africa were staring at a huge total as India could bat them out of the game completely.
Pollock evens the odds
First with the ball and then with a plucky partnership with Mark Boucher, Shaun Pollock dragged South Africa back into the game. His four wickets in the first innings, apart from an economical line where he hardly gave any freebies, kept India down to 414. Then, with South Africa battling on a tough pitch and reduced to 281 for 6, he rattled off 69 with Mark Boucher and steered them closer to India's score. It was an inspired effort and one that South Africa desperately needed to come back in the match.
The Tendulkar-Dravid crawl
England recently suffered at Adelaide, after their scoring ground to a halt, and India committed the same blunder on the fourth afternoon. The fourth wicket stand between Tendulkar and Dravid produced 24 runs in 15 overs, to which Tendulkar contributed 9 in 45 balls. Pollock was giving nothing away and Paul Harris troubling the batsmen with his over-the-wicket line spinning it from the rough. Yet, the batsmen will blame themselves for the sudden drop in scoring rate and letting South Africa roar back into the contest. It was the decisive momentum shift that was to eventually seal the series.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo