x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Kallis holds key for hosts

When it does, they should hand the man-of-the-match award to Wilson Ngobese, the 50-year-old groundsman behind a pitch that has allowed players to highlight the skills that make the five-day game utterly unique.

India's VVS Laxman, with bat, made 96 crucial runs at Kingsmead yesterday.
India's VVS Laxman, with bat, made 96 crucial runs at Kingsmead yesterday.

Durban // Weather permitting, this gripping Test will end in four days.

When it does, they should hand the man-of-the-match award to Wilson Ngobese, the 50-year-old groundsman behind a pitch that has allowed players to highlight the skills that make the five-day game utterly unique.

South Africa's bowlers were superb again on the third day, thwarted only by a masterly 96 from VVS Laxman that set them 303 to win the series with a game to spare. Graeme Smith, whose magnificent 154 at Edgbaston in pursuit of 281 sealed one of South Africa's most famous victories in 2008, then started off like a runaway train, taking 24 from Zaheer Khan's first three overs.

But on the stroke of tea, with the target whittled down to 240 and after an angry exchange of words with Sreesanth, later accused by Paul Harris of making "personal comments", he played an injudicious pull and was caught by MS Dhoni. Alviro Petersen followed, fending Harbhajan Singh to short leg via the thigh pad, and the Indian comeback was complete when a charged-up Sreesanth induced a horrible waft from the usually composed Hashim Amla.

Had Cheteshwar Pujara held on to a chance at short leg when Jacques Kallis was yet to score, India would have ended the day in even better spirits. But with Kallis and AB de Villiers at the crease, both members of the elite club of batsmen who average more than 40 in the fourth innings, South Africa remain confident of seeing off the Indian challenge.

"The wicket is a lot better to bat on," said Harris. "All we need is one partnership. It's similar to Perth [2008, where they chased 414] when AB and Jacques were batting overnight. There's no reason why we can't do it again."

At the start of play, the chances of South Africa having to chase over 300 - they have only ever done so once at home, in a dead-rubber against Australia at this very venue in 2002 - were remote. India lost Pujara for the addition of only one run, playing on off Morne Morkel, and after a 48-run stand, Dhoni followed, the latest Indian batsman to treat Lonwabo Tsotsobe's medium-pace too casually.

Harbhajan Singh couldn't stick around and India were only 222 in front when Zaheer took guard. What followed was 87 minutes of pure frustration for the hosts.

India have only failed to defend more than 300 once, at Perth back in 1977, and Laxman reckoned that the "wicket of Kallis early" would tilt the game decisively India's way. "In the first innings, once we got Kallis and Amla out, it put a lot of pressure on the others," he said. "We were happy to set 300 after the position we were in."

 

sports@thenational.ae