Who said Test cricket had lost its appeal? More than 50,000 ecstatic India fans celebrated at a throbbing Eden Gardens yesterday as their side remained at the top of the Test rankings after defeating South Africa in a thrilling denouement yesterday. The defiant Hashim Alam, who batted more than eight hours for his unbeaten 123, appeared on the verge of pulling off one of the great acts of cricketing escapology. But Harbhajan Singh sparked frenzied celebrations when he ended Amla's obdurate partnership with Morne Morkel by trapping the tailender leg before with nine balls of the match remaining. Harbhajan's fifth wicket completed victory by an innings and 57 runs, a margin that did little to illustrate how close the final day's play was. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the India captain, had to revert to unorthodox fields in an attempt to end Amla's long vigil while Virender Sehwag even resorted to kicking the ball over the boundary in an attempt to keep the right-hander off strike.
Denied the services of Zaheer Khan, the strike bowler, because of a muscle strain, Dhoni watched on helplessly as the last three Proteas wickets batted for a combined total of 53.3 overs. Victory, in a game they dominated for five day, therefore came as a huge relief. "The bowlers were great," said Dhoni. "The amount of effort the three bowlers put in today, we desperately wanted to be on the winning side." Graeme Smith, the South Africa captain, pinpointed his side's first-innings collapse from 218 for one to 298 all out as the defining moment of the match, but he was full of praise for Amla for almost saving the day.
"It would have been terrific if we had hung around," he said. "But credit must be given to MS and his boys. We should have batted better in the first innings. Special words to Amla ... he has been outstanding through the series. He has become our glue at No 3. I don't think any of us have seen him play better." Smith's disappointment at losing the match was compounded by the news that he will miss the three-match one-day international series with a finger injury. Amla, who was omitted from the original ODI squad, will replace the captain while Jacques Kallis will lead the side.
"Smith needs 10 days out to recover," said Michael Owen-Smith, South Africa's media manager. "If were we going into a World Cup quarter-final or semi-final then he would probably play. This also gives a chance for the guys like Loots Bosman." India will also be weakened by the loss of Zaheer who will miss at least the first match in Jaipur on February 21. email@example.com
South Africa 296 India 643/6 declared South Africa (second innings, overnight 115-3): Graeme Smith lbw b Mishra 20 Alviro Petersen c Badrinath b Harbhajan 21 Hashim Amla not out 127 Jacques Kallis c Dhoni b Mishra 20 Ashwell Prince c Sharma b Harbhajan 23 AB de Villiers lbw b Mishra 3 JP Duminy lbw b Harbhajan Singh 6 Dale Steyn lbw b Harbhajan Singh 1 Wayne Parnell c Harbhajan Singh b Sharma 22 Paul Harris c sub (Karthik) b Sharma 4 Morne Morkel lbw b Harbhajan Singh 12 Extras: (6b, 5lb, 1w, 18nb) 30 Total: (all out in 131.3 overs) 289 Fall of wickets: 1-36, 2-54, 3-111, 4-158, 5-164, 6-172, 7-180, 8-250, 9-264, 10-289 Bowling: Zaheer Khan 6-0-32-0 Harbhajan Singh 48.3-23-59-5 Ishant Sharma 25-5-84-2 Amit Mishra 40-12-78-3 Virender Sehwag 10-2-20-0.