South Africa seal series victory
Two contrasting partnerships either side of a lengthy rain break allowed South Africa to grind out a five-wicket win, completing a fabulous come-from-behind series win at Cape Town. It wasn't a cruise to victory by any means, battling overcast conditions and a fifth-day pitch, but their batsmen stuck to a plan, attacking early and grafting later, to edge them past the tape.
Having received a shellacking at the Wanderers, they fought back gallantly to become only the second South African side, and eighth in Test history, to win a three-Test series after going 1-0 down. Graeme Smith led the chase with an attacking half-century and the surprise move to promote Shaun Pollock to No.4 turned into a masterstroke. Zaheer Khan's double-strike gave India a whiff but Jacques Kallis and Ashwell Prince snuffed out any hope with a calm 77-run stand.
For close to four hours, rain threatened to ruin a promising contest. A technical fault with the Newlands sooper-sopper didn't help matters but South Africa had enough overs to scale the target. Before the break Smith and Pollock rattled along at close to 5.5 runs an over and chipped away a vital part of the target. They confidently negotiated the early moments under leaden skies and, vitally, were always on the lookout for runs.
Pollock, who got to work with the very first ball of the day with a flicked single, blended attack and defense smartly and the pair was most impressive with their running between the wickets. Finding the gaps and scurrying across the turf, they refused to be tied down and put the pressure on the fielders. Smith drove with assurance, as he'd done in the first innings, and handled Kumble adeptly, not allowing him to get into any sort of rhythm. None of the Indian bowlers struck a rhythm, no-one could keep the run-scoring down with a probing line and their waywardness resulted in runs bleeding runs behind the wicket.
Their speedy stand was curtailed by the elements. Incessant showers pelted down at Newlands and the failure of the sooper-sopper machine, used to dry the outfield, left several baffled. It came down to them having to manually drain out the water from the covers and play resumed only at 15:05pm. India came out far more charged with their bowlers resetting their radars.
Smith, who'd just completed his third successive half-century, attempted to cut a Zaheer delivery that was too close to his body, only for Dinesh Karthik to spring to his left and pull off a peach of a one-handed catch. Zaheer should have had Kallis's wicket off the very next ball, a full swinging one down the leg side, but umpire Asad Rauf couldn't detect the thin edge and Karthik's diving take fell to nought. Yet, Zaheer wasn't to be denied four overs later, when Pollock was sucked into a drive and handed a simple chance to VVS Laxman at first slip.
Kallis and Prince, though, didn't budge. Blunting India's charged-up bowlers with rock-solid defense, they beavered away to achieve the target. Shutting out all risks, and waiting for the loose deliveries they gave a lesson in how to bat on this pitch, one which demanded grit and application. They saw off the challenges from Zaheer and Kumble and inched South Africa towards a most-satisfying triumph.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo