Several times during the day of fluctuating fortunes,India missed their injured pace spearhead Zaheer Khan. But frequent as they were,these periods of frustration didnt last too long as Harbhajan Singh made it a habit of providing the breakthrough when the team needed it the most.
On a non-responsive pitch,Harbhajan led the depleted bowling department as they took the last seven South African wickets minutes before the dreaded deadline.
Though none of the Indian bowlers were able to get past Hashim Amlas defence who remained unbeaten on 123,they did ensure that the unstoppable South African No.3 ran out of partners just before dusk at the Eden Gardens. As Harbhajan rounded off the day with figures of 5/59 with the final wicket of Morne Morkel,India recorded an innings-and-57-run win to level the series and retain the No.1 spot in Tests.
Indias win coincided with Harbhajan rediscovering himself at his favourite venue. In contrast to his show at Nagpur,Harbhajan didnt stick to his predictable line and length. He varied his pace,went around the wicket,changed the angle and used the subtle turn that he got from the pitch to earn his wickets.
Such was the timing of his dismissals that he reignited the crowd interest just when they had resigned to the fact that South Africa would pull off an unlikely draw.
He struck first when the overnight batsmen Amla and Ashwell Prince were threatening to stitch together a big partnership. After 26 wicketless overs at the start of the day,Harbhajan sent Prince back to the pavilion with a ball that was well below his average speed. The left-handed batsman failed to keep a drive down,as the loopy delivery dipped just short of him. Mishra complemented Harbhajan well and dismissed AB de Villiers leg before soon after.
Harbhajans next wicket brought memories of his twin strikes in the first innings of the game. With JP Duminy being the last recognised South African wicket,India was desperate for a breakthrough with the score reading 172/5. Harbhajan responded to Indias SOS once again. Going round-the-wicket,he bowled a faster one that beat Duminy on the back foot. The ball,bowled with a scramble seam from the corner of the crease,went with an angle to fox the left-hander.
Harbhajan stuck to bowling from round-the-wicket to Dale Steyn. And once again it wasnt the prodigious turn that beat the bat. The ball that drifted on the middle stump straightened after pitching and Steyns 16-ball resistance was over.
Sharma bowled an inspired spell and took a couple of wickets but India were once again desperate for the final wicket. With Amla and Morkel digging deep for an hour and 15 minutes,there were glum faces in the stands. Thats when the man who got India its first breakthrough today gave the finishing touch to the thrilling win.
Harbhajan came from around the stumps to Morkel. The off-spinner had dismissed four left-handers by taking the unconventional route to the stumps and he once again banked on the same tactic. A slight turn after the ball drifted on the middle stump saw Morkel missing the line and with the ball hitting the pads,the batsman was right in front of the stumps. Harbhajans now famous celebratory run at the Eden kicked off immediately as his team mates followed and caught him metres before the boundary line. As Zaheer joined them,Harbhajan had ensured that his absence didnt hurt India in the edge-of-the-seat drama.
Now,BCCI says thanks to Eden curator
Kolkata: After all the controversies about the nature of the pitch in the lead-up to the second Test,Eden Gardens curator Prabir Mukherjee turned out to be a hero,and the BCCI promptly acknowledged his work through an e-mail to the Cricket Association of Bengal (CAB) on Thursday. We congratulate the CAB and the curator for preparing an outstanding wicket. Thanks for your support to help India retain the No 1 spot, the e-mail said.
The Indian Express had first reported that Mukherjee turned down instructions from the BCCI and refused to prepare a turner to help India draw level in the series,reiterating that he would only prepare a sporting wicket. This (preparing wickets) is not just a job for me. I dont do it for money. I do it because I love it. I dont care if the celebrity cricketers are not satisfied with my product. My sole aim is to serve the interest of cricket. The game is bigger than any individual, said Mukherjee.
Even the ICC was impressed with Mukherjees work with match referee Andy Pycroft conveying president David Morgans congratulations to the curator. (ENS)