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At Kanpur, April 11, 12, 13, 2008. India won by eight wickets. Toss: South Africa.
India arrived in Kanpur one down, with their reputation as kings at home at stake. Pride wounded, they were favourites to reply strongly, and a pitch to suit their spinners was part of this plan, but no one bargained for the strip prepared - or underprepared - at Green Park. Before the first ball was bowled, experienced players on both sides were convinced it would disintegrate early and prove dangerous for batting, although no one would say so in public.
India had already suffered the setback of losing Kumble to a groin injury, so Dhoni led a team that included rookie leg-spinner Chawla. Smith chose to bat, but even halfway into the first session each delivery was accompanied by a puff of dust as the top came off. Batsmen abandoned all pretence of occupying the crease, making the most of each scoring opportunity before the ball did something unexpected and claimed a wicket.
South Africa, led by Smith's 69 and an attacking 51 from Amla, did well to get to 265 in their first dig, with the wickets shared around in Kumble's absence. When India's turn came, the going was not easy, but Ganguly and Laxman found ways to score where others had failed. Laxman was the only batsman who appeared to be at some sort of ease at the crease, essaying punchy drives through on and off side, while Ganguly found the gaps with efficiency. India batted throughout the second day to secure a slender lead, and on the third morning a spirited last-wicket stand of 46 between Sreesanth and Sharma put India 60 ahead.
Dhoni gave a sign of things to come, opening the bowling with Harbhajan Singh, who had bowled intelligently and creatively in the first innings. South Africa's batsmen responded strangely, almost in protest at having to play on such a surface, attempting to block their way out of trouble rather than trying to put some runs on the board. The approach was never going to succeed with almost three days of play left, and merely hastened the end. After Sreesanth had prised out McKenzie, Harbhajan waded in, with Sehwag tossing up his off-spin to great effect each time a sticky partnership developed. Harbhajan had Amla snapped up by the bat-pad fielder, and Sehwag removed Kallis with his first ball, similarly caught at short leg. When Sehwag produced another peach to bowl Smith round his legs, the spinners tightened the screws. Harbhajan returned four for 44 and Sehwag a Test-best three for 12 as South Africa were bowled out for just 121. Needing only 62, India threw their bats at everything, losing two wickets in a sprint to victory on a pitch that had come apart. The Test was over in three days, the series ended at 1-1, and the decks were cleared for the Indian Premier League to begin.
Overjoyed, the Indians presented the groundsman with an impromptu tip of Rs. 10,000, but the South African coach, Mickey Arthur, slammed Green Park: "Kanpur was way below par in everything," he said. "It was a poor cricket wicket, though I can understand the reason behind it, and the practice facilities and accommodation left a lot to be desired for an international venue." Though the tourists did not lodge an official complaint, referee Roshan Mahanama took independent action, filing a report on the facilities to the ICC. They in turn, wrote to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, who assured them that "corrective" measures would be taken with regards to the pitch. The matter was thus closed.
Man of the Match: S. C. Ganguly.
Man of the Series: Harbhajan Singh.
Close of play: First day, South Africa 265; Second day, India 288-9 (Sreesanth 9, Sharma 0).
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