Paul Harris is a character straight out of a Vegas gambling film. He says "perception is often reality" and batsmen perceive him to be an innocuous bowler, and that's where he says he gets his wickets. He played around with his own perception to become the most successful spinner in the match, his "innocuous" outside-the-leg line from over the stumps getting him the wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and M Vijay, the only men who looked like they could deny South Africa. Thanks to Harris, the fast bowlers didn't need to bust their gut in consigning India to their third innings defeat at home in the last 10 years - all three to the same opposition.
Tendulkar's 91st international century, just like Virender Sehwag's 30th in the first innings, was a remarkable innings in isolation but inadequate given the thin middle order. Once he got out with India still 133 behind, it was always going to be a matter of when, not if. The when came at 4.27pm, with Dale Steyn completing his fourth career ten-wicket haul, taking out a resolute Wriddhiman Saha and Amit Mishra in quick succession.
On a day that Graeme Smith went easy on his pace bowlers, Harris provided his captain with just what was required: control over the run flow, a lion's share of the overs bowled and the big wickets. He came on to bowl as early as the fifth over of the day, and was the main bowler until tea, sending down 31 overs for 64 runs and three wickets, the third being MS Dhoni's.
Given how Dhoni got out to Harris in the first innings, padding up and gloving one that kicked from the rough, the leg-line wasn't quite as defensive as it is perceived to be. Neither of the overnight batsmen, Tendulkar and Vijay, wanted to keep padding up to him for long. Tendulkar was more convincing in getting right to the pitch of the ball, and playing it out of the rough. The flick for four through midwicket early in the day stood out. Vijay kept Harris interested with the sweep, and finally one delivery found the top edge and then Morne Morkel at fine leg.
Tendulkar had moved to 37 by then, having found balance between attack and defence. Against Harris he kicked away the deliveries outside leg, as opposed to waiting for them to hit his pads. When he made up his mind to play scoring shots, he made sure he was close to the pitch of the ball. From the other end, Smith rotated his fast bowlers, who gave Tendulkar nothing to drive.
Tendulkar was up to the task, scoring through deft touches and glances against aggressive bowling. He hit ten boundaries in his 68 runs behind square alone. The innings did feature a drop when on 45. Wayne Parnell, bowling from round the stumps, got it to straighten and hit the edge, but Jaques Kallis missed a tough one low to his right.
That was the only blotch on an innings that progressed at a fair pace. It didn't quite become a threatening knock because no one at the other end looked nearly as convincing once Vijay got out. S Badrinath kept middling the ball, kept finding fielders, and got off the mark off the 17th ball he faced. Against Parnell, he could survive just three balls. The first one beat a defensive shot, and was angling down when it hit his pad. The second one straightened, took the edge, fell short, and went for four. The third carried.
Along with Dhoni, Tendulkar negotiated 25.5 overs but neither man made an attempt to hit Harris off his line. Vijay's wicket could have had that effect. Eventually one bounced slightly more than expected, hit Tendulkar on the pad, then onto the elbow, and onto the stumps.
Dhoni, too, 25 off 112, eventually got the one accurate delivery from Harris that made him play, took the inside edge onto the pad, and his first defeat as captain would come soon. The unfortunate Saha, who unwittingly drew the ire of many by debuting as a specialist batsman, put in a fight with a 101-ball 36. Stands of 50 and 59 with Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan took them close to saving the innings defeat, but Kallis and Steyn took the last three wickets in one quick go. The messed-up stumps of Mishra at the hands of Steyn, bringing up the 10-for, was a fitting end.