India level SAfrica Test series on dubious pitch

Published: Monday, April 14, 2008, 0:17 [IST]
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Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag triggered South Africa's collapse on an awkward pitch to help India square the series with an eight-wicket win in the third and final Test here on Sunday.

Off-spinner Harbhajan bagged 4-44 and part-time spinner Sehwag 3-12 as South Africa were shot out for 121 in their second innings on a turning track of unpredictable bounce after conceding a 60-run lead on the third day.

India raced to the 62-run target off just 13.1 overs, with Sehwag smashing two successive sixes off spinner Paul Harris in a 12-ball 22. Sourav Ganguly (13 not out) and Rahul Dravid (18 not out) then completed the win.

India had lost the second Test by an innings and 90 runs in Ahmedabad and drawn the first in Chennai. They retained their number-two position in the International Cricket Council Test rankings after squaring the series.

South Africa never found the going easy on a pitch where the ball sometimes kept low as well as jumped, creating doubts in the batsmen's minds. Only skipper Graeme Smith (35) and Ashwell Prince (22 not out) offered resistance.

It was South Africa's third-lowest total against India in Tests and the second successive match of the series to be finished inside three days. As many as 13 wickets fell on the third day.

"It was a team effort. There were a couple of players who were above par. Harbhajan bowled superbly in the entire series. The part-timers also bowled well in the match," said stand-in India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

"We did not win the toss and that put us on the back foot. Sourav batted brilliantly. It was a tough series."

The visitors' hopes of posting a challenging total receded sharply when they lost the last six wickets for 31 runs, with Harbhajan taking three, paceman Ishant Sharma two and Sehwag one.

Mark Boucher was caught behind off a nasty delivery from Sharma that rose from just short of a good length, with wicket-keeper Dhoni holding a simple catch.

"I think India were clinical throughout and they deserved their victory. It is a very good Indian team and to come to their backyard and perform as we have is a good effort," said Smith.

"We were not allowed to score quicker in the second innings. India bowled well and their spinners made strokeplay very difficult. It would have been interesting if we had set a target of around 150."

Dhoni sprang a surprise in the morning when he opened the attack with Harbhajan and then kept rotating his pacemen and spinners in a bid to keep non-stop pressure on the South African batsmen.

When he pressed Sehwag into the attack in the afternoon, the move paid off instantly as the part-timer got the vital wickets of Smith and Jacques Kallis in three overs.

Left-handed Smith and Kallis (15) looked like steadying the innings after the fall of two early wickets, but Sehwag swung the match India's way.

Sehwag had Kallis caught by Wasim Jaffer at short-leg and then bowled Smith to virtually put his team in a winning position.

Shanthakumaran Sreesanth (29) earlier frustrated South Africa with a 46-run stand for the last wicket with Sharma (14 not out) before India were bowled out for 325 in their first innings in reply to the visitors' 265.

The last-wicket pair batted more than an hour in the morning, adding 37 to their team's overnight total of 288-9.

"It was special because we were 1-0 down in the series. We bowled superbly in the second innings and chasing anything over 150 would have been difficult," said Ganguly, named man of the match for his 87 in the first innings.

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