At first impulse, it might seem like wishful thinking.How can India possibly chase down South Africa's target of 340? They have just one day to accomplish the task and they are up against a potent bowling attack on a crumbling wicket. But India's track record of successful fourth innings is not all that bad.
Why, only in August last year, the side reached a victorious 258 against Sri Lanka in just 68.3 with five wickets to spare. The match was an even contest almost all the way through, much like the ongoing encounter against South Africa at Cape Town.
The Lankans posted a strong 425 in their first innings with a solid 137 from Thilan Samaraweera and supportive half-centuries from Kumara Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene. The Indian reply was even stronger at 436 with a forceful hundred from Virender Sehwag and fifties from VVS Laxman and Suresh Raina.
Riding on the momentum of the first innings,. India shot out the hosts for 267 as the spinners - Sehwag, Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra claimed three wickets each. The ensuing target of 258 with one day's time in which to reach it, initially proved daunting with India stumbling to 62/4 in 21.3 overs.
But then Tendulkar and Laxman upped their game a couple of notches and demonstrated their tremendous resolve. The duo put on a 109-run partnership, before Laxman and Raina cooly garnered the remaining 87 runs to take India home. 258 was India's fourth highest chase in Tests.
A little less than two years prior, India pulled off another sensational win in similar circumstances, against the touring English side. The men from Old Blighty collectively put on 316 runs in the first innings with Andrew Strauss hitting a century and Alistair Cook and Matt Prior pitching in with half-tons. India's reply was far poorer at 241 with only captain M S Dhoni managing to put together a 50-plus innings.
England's second innings total was again strong at 311 with 108 each from Strauss and middle-order batsman Paul Collingwood. India had their backs to the wall at that point with almost four sessions left to bat out and a seemingly overwhelming target of 387 to chase.
Sehwag reversed the pressure with a blazing 83 off 68 balls and after sharing in a century-plus opening stand with Gambhir, he had handed down a soaring impetus that middle order carried through to an improbable win. Tendulkar notched up an unbeaten103 and Yuvraj contributed a valuable 85 not out in India's realised bid for victory.
The highest total India has ever chased for a win in Tests was way back in the 1975-76 tour of the West Indies, where Bishan Singh Bedi's India batted 147 overs to reach the monumental target of 406. In the first innings of that match, the Windies toted up a score of 359 with the indominable Viv Richards making the lion's share of 177. India's reply was poor, getting bundled out for 228 with Madan Lal the top-scorer with 42.
The Carribeaners then declared on 271/6 in their second innings, before India embarked on their historic fourth innings to reach the target of 403. Sunil Gavaskar hit a century, as did middle order batsman G R Vishwanath, with useful contributions from Mohinder Amarnath and Brijesh Patel as India romped home in 147 overs.
India has now successfully chased targets over 200 on eighth occasions, three times at home and five times in away Tests. But only twice have they overhauled second innings totals of over 300. Who knows, though? Maybe today, Jan 6, 2011, will mark the third time in history they achieve the feat. All the Indian fans at home and in the Rainbow Nation will certainly be hoping so!