India stay No. 1 Test team with emphatic victory at Eden

By Sirshendu Panth, IANS,

Kolkata: India remain world’s top Test team after winning the second cricket Test against South Africa by an innings and 57 runs in a nail-biting finish to level the series 1-1 here Thursday.

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The much-criticised off-spinner Harbhajan Singh claimed five wickets, including the last one to bowl India to a dramatic victory even as Hashim Amla (127) stood his ground defying the Indian attack for eight hours, while his colleagues deserted him one after another, to remain unbeaten with his second century of the Test and the third on the trot.

Amla, the man of the match and the series, who scored 490 in three innings for only once out, raised the hopes of a draw in the South African camp when he and last man Morne Morkel played out 20 tense overs before Harbhajan trapped Morkel leg before and the stadium erupted in delirious ovation with the players going into a spontaneous celebration.

Morkel, who faced 60 deliveries for his 12, and Amla frustrated the Indian bowlers for 76 minutes.

The South Africans were eventually dismissed for 290 in the second knock barely nine deliveries to be bowled, though the Indian could have squeezed in a couple of overs more as 15 minutes remained for the scheduled draw of stumps.

Harbhajan (5/59)came good at his favourite venue as India needing seven more wickets to win had a setback with spearhead of the attack Zaheer Khan unavailable for the last day with a stretched thigh muscle. The only other front-line bowlers available, leg-spinner Amit Mishra (3/78) and Ishant Sharma bowled their hearts out, the lanky fast bowler picking up two crucial wickets in the post-tea session.

India thus avenged the defeat of the opening Test at Nagpur where they had gone down by an innings and six runs.

Amla (394 balls, 16×4) came perilously close to spoiling India’s party as he offered a straight bat to everything thrown at him by the bowlers. The first South African of Indian origin to make the national squad, seems to be going through a high, becoming the fifth batsman to notch up a hundred in each innings of a Test at the Eden Gardens.

Resuming at 115/3, needing 232 runs to avoid an innings defeat, the South Africans lost two wickets in each of the first two sessions.

In the morning, Amla and Ashwell Prince (23) added 43 runs before Harbhajan struck.

Harbhajan set up Prince nicely, forcing the left-hander misread a well-flighted delivery to top-edge trying to force to the on and Ishant Sharma had a simple catch at mid-off.

De Villiers (3) was foxed by a googly from Mishra to be lbw.

The visitors, who were 164/5 at lunch, lost two more wickets reach 250 for seven at tea as Harbhajan plotted the dismissal of Jean Paul Duminy (6) and Dale Steyn (1) in the session, trapping both the batsmen leg before.

Amla and Wayne Parnell (22), however, defended solidly to put together a 70-run partnership to keep the South Africa’s hopes alive.

Ishant finally saw the back of Parnell, who had a life when Suresh Raina failed to latch on to a catch at gully, in the fourth over after tea caught at short mid on. A little later, substitute Dinesh Karthick gladly lapped up an edge from Harris to give Sharma his second wicket and India seemed very much on course for a comfortable victory.