In India’s tour of South Africa, they proved that their no. 1 status in Tests at the time was no fluke and that they could churn out victories even on quick decks by beating South Africa on a lush green Durban pitch by 87 runs. While they were not known as the best of travellers, India had some prominent names that were experienced enough to guide their younger players.
None of them revelled as much as Sreesanth, who bowled a sensational bouncer to Jacques Kallis that was the stuff of catchy cricketing posters. Laxman underlined his importance in the lower middle order with a gritty 96 that won him the Man of the Match award.
India erased their poor memories of Durban where they suffered one of their most humiliating defeats in Tests in 1996 with an impressive win in one of the toughest countries to tour in the world.
A poor start
India were already 1-0 down in the series and were faced with a meadow at Durban, tailor-made for the South African quicks. The green pitch made skipper Graeme Smith's decision easy after winning the toss. He opted to bowl and his quicks answered the call by dismissing Sehwag, Vijay and Tendulkar by the 20th over.
Laxman played a patient hand with Pujara but soon fell to Steyn. Tsotsobe dismissed India's current no. 3 batsman, his second wicket after having removed Tendulkar earlier. Dhoni hit a few lusty blows and Harbhajan backed him up, but it was one of those days for Dale Steyn, who dismissed both to finish with six in the innings.
India were bowled out for a meagre 205.
If South Africa thought they had India on the mat with a low total, they could not have been more wrong. Zaheer continued his dominance over the South African skipper and also dismissed his opening partner, Alviro Peterson. Kallis was run out and Sreesanth bowled beautifully to dismiss AB de Villiers for a duck. Harbhajan had got into the act on a green pitch by dismissing the stable Amla.
Khan came back to dismiss Prince and Harbhajan cleaned up the tail as the Proteas were shocked for 131 by a poorer looking bowling attack on paper. Zaheer and Sreesanth had wrecked early trouble and Harbhajan capitalised on the weakness against spin of the South African batsmen.
Building a sizeable lead
The game was still very much open with India having a lead of just 74. The South African pace bowlers were pumped up and had India in trouble at 56/4 after Sehwag's swashbuckling 32.
Laxman then took over the repair job and built a fine innings with patience and supreme control. He barely had any assistance as the other Indian batsmen failed to cope with the Protea seamers.
Pujara hung around for 56 balls and Dhoni for 35 balls but both were dismissed which meant that Laxman could have run out partners. However, Zaheer showed his batting talents with a patient 27 off 63 balls that helped Laxman milk some runs from the other end.
Laxman was the last man to be dismissed for 96, caught by Boucher off Steyn, as India reached 228 to set a target of 303 for the Proteas.
The inspired bowling
South Africa may have faltered in the first innings but they had some senior batsmen in their squad and were more than capable of making up for a dismal performance in the first innings. However, they did not account for a fired up Sreesanth.
After a sound opening stand of 63, three wickets fell in quick succession as Sreesanth had Smith and Amla poking to Dhoni while Harbhajan removed Petersen.
The ball of the series
Sreesanth, already buoyed by the wickets of Smith and Amla, produced a snorter of a bouncer in the 35th over. Kallis, the batsman on strike, arched his back to avoid the ball but it kept following him after pitching.
The ball caught Kallis' gloves eventually and landed safely in the hands of the fielder at gully, Virender Sehwag. The usually emotive Sreesanth, celebrated with a pump of his fists as he knew the job was unfinished with de Villiers, Prince and some capable lower order batsmen to come.
Harbhajan's dismissal of de Villiers, out LBW, sparked huge celebrations although replays revealed that the ball would have missed the stumps. Prince showed fight and remained unbeaten.
But Zaheer was adamant on stamping his signature in the game. He had Boucher trapped in front and dismissed Steyn and Paul Harris to leave South Africa on the brink of defeat.
Tsotsobe was run out to end South Africa's resistance with them 87 short. India had levelled the series in a pitch laid out to consume them with pace and bounce. They had turned the tables with some fiery bowling and gritty batting to which South Africa had no answers.
India - 205 (Laxman 38, Steyn 6-50) and 228 (Laxman 96, Tsotsobe 3-43) beat South Africa - 131 (Amla 33, Harbhajan 4-10) and 215 (Prince 39*, Sreesanth 3-35, Zaheer 3-57) by 87 runs
The series outcome and future
India went on to draw the series after playing out a draw at Newlands and returned as a polished Test outfit. They had good fast bowlers and an able spinner and their batting line-up was the stuff of dreams.
However, the hero with the ball, Sreesanth, would go on to be defamed after a spot-fixing incident in the IPL later in 2013, ended his cricket career.
Zaheer and Laxman would retire as iconic Indian players and still demand considerable respect from their contemporaries and present generation players.
India failed to win a Test in the county since then, losing the 2013 series 1-0 although that was a two match series.
The opposition skipper, Graeme Smith, retired as South Africa's most successful skipper in Tests while AB de Villiers would go on to become a cult figure and a modern day great with his dynamic batting.
(Video courtesy: Sreenath G)Published 27 Dec 2016, 11:23 IST