Tendulkar and Dhoni delay South Africa's win
India 136 and 454 for 8 (Tendulkar 107*, Dhoni 90, Steyn 3-103) trail South Africa 620 for 4 dec by 30 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
When strong winds and storm clouds forced the players off SuperSport Park late on the fourth day, South Africa were on the verge of winning a Test they had dominated entirely. That they hadn't won by an innings already, and would spend the night hoping the foul weather vanishes in time to take two wickets, was because Sachin Tendulkar scored his 50th Test century in trying circumstances and, with MS Dhoni, forged a counterattacking 172-run partnership that took India to within 30 runs of wiping out the monstrous 484-run deficit.
South Africa had taken such a significant stride towards victory by scalping four wickets during the first session that it seemed as though their 1-0 series lead would be secure before tea. However, they faced resistance: first from Tendulkar, whose concentration did not waver as his middle-order mates departed meekly, and then from Dhoni, whose belligerent approach brought rewards thanks to a sparsely-populated outfield. South Africa did not take a wicket between lunch and tea. India made 117.
Tendulkar and Dhoni continued to blunt a tiring attack during the final session and whittled the deficit below 100. It needed Dale Steyn - supremely fit, aggressive, and pumped up for one last burst - to bowl a bouncer that rose steeply and seamed towards Dhoni, dismissing him for 90 - an innings that began the fightback. Steyn screamed in angry celebration as Dhoni failed to sway out of the way and Mark Boucher dived to his right to catch the edge. India were 449 for 7 and the dream of saving the Test was over. Harbhajan Singh nicked to slip soon after and Tendulkar, watching unbeaten from the other end as Jacques Kallis roared uncharacteristically after taking the catch, knew that he would need substantial help from the weather to help India escape.
There was little hope of a jailbreak when Dhoni joined Tendulkar right after lunch with India on 277 for 6, trailing by 207. The desperateness of the situation allowed Dhoni to play aggressively and he did so, driving Lonwabo Tsotsobe past mid-off and through cover in the 79th over of the innings. Seeking a quick end, Smith gave the second new ball to Steyn and Morne Morkel, urging them to take the wicket that would expose India's tail. It did not happen. Tendulkar was calmness and good judgment personified, while Dhoni attacked, sometimes merely pushing the ball with enviable timing through the off side, sometimes lashing drives and cuts with a high back-lift and fierce follow-through. Both approaches yielded boundaries, and he began to catch up with Tendulkar.
Mokel leaked 13 in his second over with the new ball. Tendulkar cut him fiercely, and Dhoni pulled and drove through cover. There were a glut of boundaries in the first hour after lunch, three of which Dhoni took off consecutive deliveries from Kallis, leaving the bowler muttering to himself at the end of the over.
Paul Harris got the odd ball to jump, turn and trouble Tendulkar, but he was largely ineffective, considering he was operating on a fourth-day surface. As the deficit decreased, Dhoni tempered his aggression while Tendulkar continued batting resolutely, his cutting and driving off the back foot being the standout features of his innings.
Tendulkar resumed after tea on 80, his fluency uninterrupted, and flicked and steered Morkel for boundaries to accelerate towards his milestone. South Africa attempted to delay the century by deploying boundary-riders. Out of the blue, Tendulkar charged Harris, lofting cleanly over mid-off to steam into the nineties. He played the paddle sweep, mis-timed another charge against Harris, and was nearly involved in a disastrous mix-up with Dhoni, before punching Steyn through cover point to become the only batsman with 50 Test centuries.
At Old Trafford in 1990, Tendulkar's first Test hundred was made in adversity and it helped India avoid defeat. His 50th, like his first and so many others, was also an attempt at saving the match. His celebrations were not extravagant because India were still struggling.
As the light grew dimmer and the clouds darker, South Africa needed inspiration to end India's resistance and Steyn provided it. During the spell in which he dismissed Dhoni, Steyn hit speeds of 145kph, smacking Tendulkar on the gloves and thudding a bouncer into his shoulder. He raised South Africa's intensity levels single-handedly.
Before India began to fight, however, they had lost four wickets in quick time, the last of which was Suresh Raina, brittle as ever, hanging his bat outside off stump in the final over before lunch to edge Kallis to slip. His dismissal was the perfect end to the session for South Africa, who had performed with patience. Dravid and the nightwatchman Ishant Sharma had played carefully and their partnership lasted 48 minutes, holding up South Africa. The frustration didn't last much longer, however, as Steyn had Ishant caught at short leg.
During his composed innings, Dravid went past 12,000 Test runs but India needed much more from him than 43. Morkel accounted for him with one that was angled in and then seamed away, and grazed the outside edge of Dravid's tentative push. Laxman wasn't comfortable against pace, either, and eventually edged a full ball to gully, giving Tsotsobe his first wicket of the match. At that point, few would have expected South Africa to face the difficulty they did.
George Binoy is an assistant editor at Cricinfo