An all-round show from Harbhajan Singh along with a crucial 51st Test hundred from Sachin Tendulkar kept India’s hopes alive of winning the Series at Cape Town 2-1. South Africa after conceding a non-significant first innings lead of two runs are under pressure at 52 for 2 in 16 overs, more so with the pitch deteriorating in favour of Harbhajan Singh!
When play started on Day 3, the morning session was going to be a huge factor in deciding the fate of the series. India with plenty of lucky almost saw it through with Gautam Gambhir and Sachin Tendulkar extending their overnight partnership. Tendulkar edged a Steyn delivery right in the first over of play and got away with that because of the ball going on the bounce to the keeper. South Africa had to wait almost two hours after that to finally see the breakthrough and it came when Gautam Gambhir went back in defence to Paul Harris but only to edge it behind to the keeper. Harris had sowed the doubt in Gambhir with one that turned and jumped off the footmarks outside off and cleverly foxed him with a straighter one outside off which forced him to play and nudge it to the keeper. Gambhir fell on 93 (from 222 balls with 13 fours) in the 72nd over after putting up a huge partnership of 176 runs with Sachin.
India looked really good when VVS Laxman joined Tendulkar as the runs started to flow quickly. However, there was a twist to the tale when Laxman got tragically run out backing up at the non-striker’s end when a Tendulkar’s smashing drive off Harris spilled off the bowler’s hand and crashed onto the stumps. Laxman was looking fine with a 19-ball 15 before getting out minutes before Lunch. India went into the break at 237 for 4 in 82 overs with Tendulkar approaching a century and there was lots of danger ahead with the Proteas taking the second new ball.
The second new ball immediately produced the results for South Africa with Dale Steyn dishing out a magical outswinger around leg which straightened to hit Cheteshwar Pujara (2 from 14) low on the pad infront of the stumps. In his next over, Steyn had Skipper MS Dhoni (0 from 3 balls) edging a loose drive into the hands of Prince at third slip to reduce the score to 247 for 6. By this time, Tendulkar realized that it was only matter of time before India got bundled out against the deadly combination of Steyn and Morkel and he played more and more shots. One of those attacking shots from Tendulkar was a hook shot off Morkel which flew from the top edge over the slip cordon for a six to bring up his 51st Test century. Harbhajan Singh, his new partner was in no mood to hang in there and was providing a counter attack in his own slog mode.
Luckily for India, Harbhajan middled a few of his shots and Tendulkar made sure he wasn’t giving away his wicket! India once again got back onto the track and the two batsmen saw through the post lunch session taking the score to 316 for 6 in 107 overs. Steyn returned back after Tea and got Harbhajan Singh top edging a hook shot towards substitute fielder JP Duminy at long leg to end a crucial 7th wicket stand of 76 runs. Harbhajan by then had done enough damage with his 40 from 67 balls which was powered by 3 fours and 2 sixes! After that reasonably big partnership, Tendulkar too departed trying to open the face of the blade and guide Morkel to thirdman but only to get bowled. It was a good delivery from Morkel which nipped back to hit the top of off to end Tendulkar’s 314-ball stay in the middle. Sachin Tendulkar finished with 146 which came with 17 fours and 2 sixes.
The hosts were set to take a slender lead with India at 341 for 8 but even that was spoilt by a cameo of Zaheer Khan who chipped in with 23 from 22 balls which included two sixes before getting out to Morne Morkel. India got bowled out for 364 in 117.1 overs with Dale Steyn finishing with figures of 31-11-75-5. South Africa started their second innings really well and the Indian bowling attack looked weak. But in the 14th over, Harbhajan Singh produced a top spinner which skidded through straight on to defeat a Graeme Smith’s backfoot flick to have him lbw. Smith scored 29 from 47 balls with 3 fours while putting up 50 runs for the first wicket.
Smith got out just minutes before the close of play and South Africa decided to send in nightwatchman Paul Harris to join Alviro Petersen. In the final over of the day, Paul Harris offered no shot to an off break from Harbhajan which disturbed the top surface of the pitch to raise a puff of dust and then it turned in sharply and stayed low to hit the pad. Umpire Simon Taufel had an easy lbw decision to make as SA slipped to 52 for 2 with Harris gone for an 8-ball duck. Petersen stayed unbeaten on 22 from 38 balls along with Hashim Amla who is yet to open his account.