Rarely has so much depended on one wicket and Eden Gardens was getting nervous. Gradually,during their 20-over last-wicket association,Iceman Hashim Amlas calmness had rubbed on to No.11 Morne Morkel,and Indias chances of winning the Test,levelling the series and retaining their position as the Worlds No.1 Test team were fading like the evening sunlight in Kolkata.
With South Africa needing to survive a minimum of 12 balls,both Amla (unbeaten on 123 after more than 8 hours at the crease) and Harbhajan Singh (one wicket short of a fiver) knew they had a chance to make the grand exit at Edens theatre of dreams.
The aisles were carpeted with half-smoked cigarettes. Waiters in the corporate boxes had stopped serving the evening snacks to watch. On the field,the Indians were rushing through their overs,trying to get in as many as they could before the cut-off time; from the South African dressing room frequent messages were going out,asking their batsmen to slow things down as much as possible.
As Morkel prepared to face Harbhajan in the days penultimate over,Eden sniffed one final opportunity. It was here that Harbhajan,then a 20-year-old,had dismissed 13 Invincible Aussies during the famous 2001 series match to earn his nickname of Turbanator. Nine years on,he had the chance to keep up Indias no-loss record at Eden for the entire decade.
As he came in to bowl,the crowd got the roof down,roaring to push to him get the last South African tailender. And Harbhajan delivered. On the third delivery,Morkel,then 76 minutes old at the crease,missed the line. As the ball hit his pad,all of Eden went up and,after a moments hesitation,so did umpire Steve Daviss finger.
India had won by an innings and 57 runs,squared the two-Test series,kept their No. 1 Test rank,and assured themselves of the $175,000 ICC bonus for doing so. They had centurions Sehwag,Sachin,Laxman and Dhoni to thank,but ultimately it was Harbhajan the man who came to Kolkata weighed down by memories of a dismal show in Nagpur,but left with a match-winning show to be in a perfect mood for his sisters wedding back home.
As Harbhajan bolted off on a wild celebration run,and was finally caught by his teammates near the boundary line,the lonely figure of Hashim Amla,calm,bearded and monk-like,walked slowly to the pavilion. He had remained unconquered on 123 and,together with the 114 of the first innings and 253 not out of Nagpur,taken 490 off the Indian attack in two Tests,giving them his wicket only once.
When he was first seen in a practice game ahead of the 2003 World Cup,this son of a Durban doctor with roots in Surat had been hailed as the big hope of Indian-origin cricketers in South Africa,and a future Proteas player. Seven years on,at the Eden today,TV commentator and former South African batsman Daryl Cullinan described Amla,26,as a future captain of South Africa.
When at the back of your mind you know if you have to bat a whole day,breaking it down is the key. You take it ball by ball,over by over. Its just the basics,there is no science to it. I just wanted to keep it simple, Amla,Man of the Match at both Nagpur and Kolkata and the Man of the Series,said of his Eden marathon.