At Kolkata, February 14-18, 2010. India won by an innings and 57 runs. Toss: South Africa. Test debut: A. N. Petersen.
Revenge was swift for India after their Nagpur mauling, but South Africa made it easier with an astonishing collapse on the first evening. They had raced to 200 for one in the 45th over, with Amla and Alviro Petersen in firm control - Amla piling on the misery for India as he raced to a sublime century off just 124 balls, while Petersen proved his credentials with a quality hundred on debut. Then a fiery second spell from Sharma changed the mood before Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh turned the innings on its head.
Petersen came into the side when back trouble ended Mark Boucher's run of 54 successive Tests (de Villiers took the gloves). He was unfazed by the early loss of his opening partner Smith, who played despite the broken little finger which kept him out of the subsequent one-day series but knew little about a superb ball from Zaheer that came back a considerable distance. Petersen fought his way to only the third century on debut for South Africa after those by Andrew Hudson (1991-92) and Jacques Rudolph (2002-03). Crucially, he fell in the next over as he chased a delivery that Zaheer angled across him. Even more importantly, given his record-breaking form, Amla fell four balls after tea, edging a misguided pull at a Zaheer bouncer that was outside off stump and going further away. Amla was rather fortunate to have reached three figures: he was badly dropped by Laxman at slip when 60, and on 76 sliced Harbhajan just out of reach of the diminutive Mishra at mid-off.
Once Zaheer had removed Petersen and Amla, Harbhajan put India on top with a superb spell, while an inspired Sharma kept the pressure on from the other end. Harbhajan bowled a better line than at Nagpur, and the middle order crumbled in the Eden Gardens cauldron. Kallis reverted to the default sweep, and Laxman claimed a rousing catch running back from slip towards fine leg. Prince and Duminy, both out of form, fell to successive balls in Harbhajan's next over, getting their pads in the way of the variation that goes straight on.
From 218 for one South Africa had crashed alarmingly, not helped by the run-out of de Villiers, whose over-exuberance caused Steyn to panic; Zaheer claimed a thrilling direct hit to make it 254 for seven. Harris and Steyn fell cheaply before bad light brought India's fightback to a temporary halt. As the match had been in South Africa's control, with a rare series win in India beckoning, it seemed legitimate to ask whether they had suffered another of their infamous "chokes".
Parnell and Morkel added 30 next morning before Zaheer claimed his fourth wicket. There was still over an hour to go to lunch, and South Africa had high hopes of early breakthroughs on a firm pitch with swing possible in the murky atmosphere - but Sehwag had other ideas. He blasted 39, with seven fours and a six, from his first 20 balls, and was 52 by the interval.
By then, however, Sehwag had lost two partners - the first without warning, when he sent Gambhir back too late to beat some excellent fielding from Petersen. An intense spell from Morkel accounted for Vijay and also saw Sehwag dropped by Duminy at first slip. But after lunch Sehwag and Tendulkar cruised along at five an over thanks to fluent, attacking strokeplay. If Sehwag was the brutal axeman, crashing anything remotely wide through the off side and hitting powerfully off his pads, Tendulkar was the precise surgeon, showing clinical timing and placement, and incredible touch, in his 47th Test hundred.
Sehwag made the most of his earlier let-off - and a missed stumping by de Villiers off Harris at 129 - as he plundered 165 from just 174 balls with 23 fours and two sixes. In the end, though, he fell lamely, driving a well-flighted delivery from part-time off-spinner Duminy straight to extra cover.
Harris had Tendulkar caught at slip in the next over and, when Steyn returned to bowl Badrinath, South Africa had grabbed three wickets for five runs at the end of the day. With the second new ball due after four overs next morning, they needed more of the same to fight their way back into contention - but instead fluffed three half-chances before lunch, while night-watchman Mishra proved an irritation. Laxman (back after missing the previous Test with a finger injury) and Dhoni then kicked on remorselessly, reaching centuries as they steered India to their highest total against South Africa during an unbeaten seventh-wicket stand of 259, an Indian record, beating 235 by Ravi Shastri and Syed Kirmani against England at Bombay in 1984-85. Harris was prevented from bowling the over-the-wicket line outside leg stump he had used at Nagpur as umpire Ian Gould called wides.
Dhoni ended the numbed visitors' suffering in the field with 11 scheduled overs left in the day, but bad light meant just five balls were possible. The weather helped South Africa further overnight, a wet outfield preventing play for an hour and a half on the fourth morning. Bad light and rain cost another 95 minutes before tea, and only one over was possible in the final session. But Mishra finally made his mark, claiming the big wickets of Smith, with his first delivery, and Kallis, who edged a gem of a leg-break. On the final morning Mishra also removed de Villiers, who failed to read the googly, while Harbhajan was starting to make his presence felt at the other end.
South Africa slumped to 180 for seven, still 167 behind. But magnificent was the only word for Amla, who tried gamely to save the Test with the aid of the tail. Parnell batted for 101 minutes before Sharma was recalled and had him caught at mid-on, followed by Harris in the slips. Last man Morkel miraculously survived over an hour, and the Eden Gardens crowd grew desperate as the close loomed. Sehwag kicked the ball over the boundary in an attempt to deny Amla - who had strolled a single - the strike at the end of an over, but the umpires correctly awarded five penalty runs for unfair fielding.
Just nine mandatory balls remained (although there were still 16 minutes of play left) when Harbhajan answered the crowd's prayers, turning a delivery past Morkel's inside edge to render Amla's heroics redundant. He had completed his second century of the match, the tenth of his Test career, and his eventual series average of 490 had been bettered only by Wally Hammond, who made 563 runs for once out, also in two Tests, for England in New Zealand in 1932-33.
Man of the Match: H. M. Amla.
Man of the Series: H. M. Amla.
Close of play: First day, South Africa 266-9 (Parnell 2, Morkel 3); Second day, India 342-5 (Laxman 9, Mishra 1); Third day, South Africa 6-0 (Smith 5, Petersen 1); Fourth day, South Africa 115-3 (Amla 49, Prince 0).