Cricket / India shares honours in a Test series in South Africa for the first time
Neither India nor South Africa deserved to lose this most even of series; neither did, as the third Test here in Newlands concluded in a draw on Thursday.
Four days of animated cricket, where the momentum swung less abruptly than at Durban, but no less dramatically, had reduced the Test to this: India had a day to bat out, 340 to chase if it could manage the brio; South Africa had ten wickets to take on a ground where the last such endeavour, against England, had ended in heartbreak.
India, by choosing not to hazard even a token attempt at the chase, allowed South Africa to encircle its batsmen in ring fields for much of the fifth day. But Gautam Gambhir (64) and Rahul Dravid (31) resisted the push for wickets, making easier the lives of those who followed as India held on to draw its first series (1-1) in South Africa.
The first hour was crucial — the new ball a pivot on which the contest could turn. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel began like they've been known to, Steyn swinging the ball and moving it off the seam at fast-medium speed, Morkel raising it from a length at high pace. Steyn beat Sehwag in the first over; Morkel hit Gambhir in the second.
Gambhir needed a canteen of ice to press to his left arm, a limb already battered by a rapid ball in the match. But it only seemed to sharpen the left-hander's focus. Pain brings to life the senses better than anything else, which is why the injured batsman is always feared, especially if his movement isn't unduly affected. Gambhir, who lives for such days, marked his guard, settled into his balanced stance, and resumed.
Sehwag batted with greater circumspection than common. Only on occasion did he attempt to light the ‘firecrackers' Harbhajan Singh thought he might.
He left as just as the hour was about to be marked, a speeding, length ball from Morkel accosting a defensive stroke even as it was forming to take the edge to first slip.
Sehwag's wicket, which completed a lean series for the opener, brought together two of India's best at batting time. For two and a half hours, punctuated by the break for lunch, Gambhir and Dravid did just that: they batted time, rationing their concentration, switching on, applying their organised techniques to the ball at hand, switching off, and then doing it all over again.
The luck that is essential for survival on a wearing fifth-day wicket was also with them. Lonwabo Tsotsobe defeated both batsmen's edges — his bowling from left-arm around when he straightened the ball was particularly impressive — and Steyn nearly had Gambhir edging a drive onto his stumps from a ball that burst through the top surface.
Paul Harris, introduced after an hour and a quarter, asked uncomfortable questions with his left-arm orthodox from both over and around the wicket. Him not being a big turner of the ball added to the difficulty, for the batsmen were forced to delay their decision to play or pad the ball away till the last possible instant.
The odd delivery ripped and bounced from the rough, maintaining the air of uncertainty.
Harris should have had Dravid ‘lbw': one that hurried on with the arm from around the wicket beat the cut-stroke, hitting pad first; it was a difficult decision because bat and pad were close together, and the umpire ruled in the batsman's favour.
But South Africa didn't have long to despair. Dravid fell shortly thereafter, caught at wide third slip off a delivery from Tsotsobe that kicked and moved.
Gambhir and Tendulkar played out an anxious period to tea. Gambhir was reprieved on 62 when A.B. de Villiers failed to hold a sharp catch at silly-point, the leading edge off Harris travelling too quickly for him.
De Villiers, this time at backward short-leg, put down another tough one; it wasn't clear if Tendulkar had touched it — Harris' anguish suggested he had.
Barring a short period after lunch when he seemed to lose concentration and aimed rash shots at Steyn and Harris, Gambhir batted with clarity. His scoring strokes were often an extension of his defence, bat held soft and straight till contact before a turn of the wrists or a punch of the arms timed and placed the ball.
Steyn ended Gambhir's four-and-a-half-hour vigil, a bouncer from around the wicket grazing the glove en route to the ‘keeper.
This left India in the capable, reassuring hands of Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman, who, despite the odd moment that spiked the heart-rate, guided the side to safety, batting 82 minutes together before the match was stopped.
South Africa's Jacques Kallis was adjudged the Man of the Match as well as the Man of the Series.
South Africa — 1st innings: 362
India — 1st innings: 364
South Africa — 2nd innings: 341
India — 2nd innings: G. Gambhir c Boucher b Steyn 64 (184b, 9x4), V. Sehwag c Smith b Morkel 11 (40b, 2x4), R. Dravid c Prince b Tsotsobe 31 (112b, 4x4), S. Tendulkar (not out) 14 (91b), V.V.S. Laxman (not out) 32 (67b, 4x4), Extras (b-7, nb-2, w-5): 14; Total (for three wickets in 82 overs): 166.
Fall of wickets: 1-27 (Sehwag), 2-106 (Dravid), 3-120 (Gambhir).
South Africa bowling: Steyn 18-6-43-1, Morkel 15-6-26-1, Tsotsobe 13-4-29-1, Harris 30-19-29-0, Smith 4-0-27-0, Petersen 2-0-5-0 .