Anil Kumble: his demeanour and commitment rarely wavers, but his colleagues have yet to adopt the hard-yakka attitude © Getty Images

South Africa will undoubtedly leave Green Park the happier of the two sides after a mind-numbingly tedious game illuminated only by the incandescence of Virender Sehwag's strokeplay. For India, it continues a worrying trend: since January 2003, they have won only one of seven Tests on home turf.

Three of those matches, including this one, were played on sloth-like pitches, which neutralised pace and spin alike. And touring teams that traditionally arrived here with knees knocking at the prospect of an examination by spin thrived on surfaces where wicket-taking was hard as the labours of Hercules.

New Zealand comfortably thwarted the Indians at Ahmedabad last year, and then had the satisfaction of enforcing the follow-on in a Mohali Test remembered mainly for some wretchedly slow batting. And after a pitch of dubious quality produced a low-scoring thriller against Australia at Mumbai, the task of squeezing the life out of Test cricket was resumed at Green Park.

It's a terrible indictment of the manner in which cricket continues to be run in India that the best crowds in the world - the total attendance here surpassed what many countries manage in an entire three-Test series, and easily outstripped the three-men-and-dog attendances for India's much-hyped series in Pakistan - are given such short shrift. Instead of calling for heads to roll from the pitches committee, they cheered and barracked every little incident, right to the bitter, anticlimactic end. If Test cricket is alive today, part of the reason is because of the passion it can still inspire in India - and matches such as these will only result in legions of spurned lovers.

Ray Jennings and the team he has been tending with love and care will take much encouragement from this result, having been reckoned by some to be little better than cattle ready for the slaughter in India's spin-abattoirs. Like New Zealand a year ago, the South Africans have impressed many with their diligence and application, and the manner in which they have confronted external realities that can so often derail tours of the subcontinent.

For India, the lack of penetration in the bowling when the environment is unhelpful remains a major worry. Except for Anil Kumble, whose demeanour and commitment rarely waver, the other bowlers have yet to master the hard-yakka mentality that gets Australia through every glass ceiling. Too often, petulance and an air of resignation creep in when the going gets tough, and the lack of balance between the heavy-pace ball and the slowly spun one has also been exposed in this home season.

None of India's pace bowlers has mastered the craft enough to toil and prevail in the manner of a Michael Kasprowicz, never mind match the likes of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. But, that said, it would surely be folly to go in with a three-pronged spin attack on an Eden Gardens pitch that has no great reputation as a square turner.

South Africa themselves look insipid with the ball. Shaun Pollock lacks the pace to be a storm-trooper like Allan Donald in his prime, while Makhaya Ntini's form can be as fickle as the weather in Melbourne. Andrew Hall and Zander de Bruyn appear capable of doing the hard yards, but aren't exactly in the Jacques Kallis class when it comes to being a tourniquet-partnership breaker. Assuming he has recovered fully from his side strain, Kallis will surely have a role to play with the ball at Kolkata.

It was hard to escape the impression, though, that these were two fair-to-middling sides scrapping to restore pride after recent setbacks. And with so much to lose, neither team could summon up the skill or ingenuity required to make something out of a pitch that was a complete cypher.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.