At the end of day two, Sourav Ganguly had said that South Africa's collapse in the first innings, during which they lost nine wickets for 113 runs, boosted India's confidence in the second. Perhaps he knew the bowlers had got the measure of the Green Park pitch, something Mahendra Singh Dhoni, captaining in his first Test, reiterated today after the dramatic win.
"In the second innings, everybody knew what lengths to bowl, and from what spots they would get variable bounce," Dhoni said, "The fast bowlers especially deserve a lot of credit in the second innings."
A major change from the first innings was that India opened with Harbhajan Singh and Ishant Sharma, neither of whom gave anything away. They made sure there were no free runs on offer to let off the pressure that a 60-run deficit would have put on the South Africans. India applied what Dhoni termed as 'mindgames' with that lead in their bags, and delayed its erasing as much as possible, knowing the wickets would just be a matter of time if they could push South Africa into a shell. The approach was rewarded fully, as South Africa had lost four of their best batsmen by the time they were only 12 ahead. "Although this was the third day of the match, this was not a third-day pitch," Dhoni said. "The way Harbhajan and Viru [Virender Sehwag] bowled, we knew it was going to be just a matter of time. There were no easy singles on offer, so we put a lot of pressure on them. We made sure they didn't take a single and go off strike."
This is where the efforts of Ganguly and VVS Laxman provide a stark contrast to the South African batsmen, and also proved crucial in the final equation, as they controlled the innings, consciously looking to score more often than they usually would. "To play positively on this wicket is very important," Dhoni said. "You can get out irrespective of whether you are playing your shots or not, the way it happened to Rahul Dravid. So you have to keep scoring on such tracks. It was very crucial the way Sourav batted on this track, and the 60-odd lead was very crucial, because it changes the whole mindset of the team that is batting next."
Almost all the bowling changes he made seemed to work. In the first innings, Piyush Chawla got wickets in his first over on two occasions. In the second, Sehwag got a wicket with his first ball and Ishant got two in the first over of his second spell. But Dhoni said it was easier to captain on this pitch, especially with the way the bowlers bowled.
"Viru is much more than a part-timer on this kind of wicket. He continuously kept bowling the right areas, in the rough. It was a deliberate move, and we knew that with him and Yuvraj in the team we would not need an extra spinner."
He had a pretty difficult job of replacing Anil Kumble as captain, and also playing without Sachin Tendulkar and Kumble for the first time since the latter's debut. "It's pretty hard to replace a man like Kumble, and especially on such a wicket," he said. "Had he been playing, I don't think this would have lasted three days.
"Well we did well, but it doesn't mean we are better off without Sachin or Anil. Who is there to replace Sachin? Who is there to replace Kumble? It is better to have them in the side than not, but the credit goes to the boys who stood up in their absence."
It was also an extremely difficult match for Dhoni the keeper, and to his credit he did himself no shame during the last three days. "The wicket was turning square, and most of our spinners were bowling in the rough," he said. "So you find yourself keeping to some balls that would spin and some that wouldn't. I was quite happy with the way I kept, because some balls were kicking and some were keeping really low. The way our fast bowlers were bowling, it could hurt your fingers pretty badly. It was good fun though."
This series was part two of a potential rivalry that India had started in South Africa last year. India needed a tailor-made track to come back on level terms on a series that they were expected to win easily. Dhoni, though, agreed with the South African coach Mickey Arthur that there was nothing wrong in playing to your strengths. "If we go to Australia, we get bouncy tracks; when we go to England, we get swinging tracks. When you come to India, you expect turning and bouncing tracks, and that's what this one was. It's better to stick to the specialties of certain places."
India fighting South Africa on a greentop at Kingsmead should make for an equally gripping a battle, if India can fight as hard as South Africa did at Green Park.