Stars set up thrilling finale

2011-01-06 00:00

WITH a rib-cage resembling a Monday night special, Jacques Kallis rolled up his sleeves and dragged South Africa from the doldrums, as his 40th Test ton saw the Proteas to a daunting total of 341 all out at stumps on the fourth day.

From a precarious 130 for six after a flurry of morning wickets, the ailing Kallis found in Mark Boucher a willing soldier to help dig the Proteas from the trenches, as the bosom buddies added a match-changing 103 for the seventh wicket.

“We are over the moon with where we are now, because if you had told us we would have a lead of 300 at lunch, we would have struggled to believe it,” the veteran keeper-batsman admitted.

“It was tough when I got out there, with a lot of chirping around the bat,” Boucher revealed after the day’s play.

Just about playing for his Test career, Boucher showed once again why he is so hard to consign to the scrap heap.

“I went out there with a very aggressive mindset, and it paid off,” he said.

When there is a scrap at hand, the nuggety veteran seems to find an extra bit of mongrel to confront the situation head on.

While Kallis was nursing a muscle strain, Boucher must have been mulling over the distinct possibility that this could be his last Test innings, as he marched to the crease just after lunch.

Overnight batsmen Alviro Petersen (22) and Hashim Amla (2) had fallen to a rampant Harbhajan Singh, who ended with seven for 120.

Petersen, having seen both Graeme Smith and Paul Harris pay for playing right back to Harbhajan, did the same and met a similar fate in the second over of the day.

That shock start was compounded when Amla was bowled on the sweep, as the ball got tangled on his rubbery wrists before fatefully meeting his leg-stump.

At 64-4, the alarm bells were tolling.

The Kingsmead crumble looked like it had become a coastal pandemic, as the Indians threatened to end matters swiftly.

AB de Villiers looked to be repairing the damage with Kallis, before he left a periscopic bat for Zaheer Khan’s routine delivery to find, and suddenly the stumps were splattered and it was 98 for five.

The curiosity of Amla’s and De Villiers’ dismissals suggested that things were really against the Proteas, but Ashwell Prince and Kallis saw the side through to lunch on a wobbly 121 for five.

India would later lament not applying the knockout punch.

“I thought we started the day really well, but then we didn’t create enough chances during the rest of the day,” Harbhajan conceded.

“At one stage it looked like we would chase 200, but credit to the South Africans because they batted really well.”

Prince slapped Ishant Sharma straight to Sreesanth at point after lunch, bringing together the best of friends.

Kallis, wincing every now and then, played deftly and defiantly, employing reverse-sweeps and drives when the situation demanded it.

Boucher, though, was more confrontational, meeting Harbhajan’s spin and bounce with a smothering broom that swept clean all day.

In the circumstances, with irregular bounce and a series on the line — never mind his very career — he raced to his half-century.

“I guess some people handle pressure a bit better than others, and Jacques and I know each other inside out and we helped each other out there,” he reflected.

When Boucher fell for a priceless 55, after a critical stand of 103, it was not to Harbhajan. It was the part-time twirl of Sachin Tendulkar that did it for him, with a ball that kept so low it almost went under the stumps.

Kallis marched on, and Dale Steyn took a leaf out of Harbhajan’s batting manual as he swung from the hip to club a breezy 32, incuding a vengeful six off Harbhajan.

Steyn and Kallis added 54 to really take the game away from the tourists, before Harbhajan saw the back of him.

Morne Morkel hung around too, and he saw Kallis through to his second ton of this match — and a 40th in Test cricket.

It meant everything to the Proteas, and even though Morkel and a bat-wielding Lonwabo Tsotsobe fell at the end of the day, the damage had long been repaired.

Never shy of a confrontation, Boucher said the pressure is now on India, as South Africa enter today’s final day as favourites.

“On a pitch that is starting to go up and down, with two guys running in and bowling over 140 km/h, it will be interesting to see how they go.

“They have had a lot to say over the last few days, and now it’s our turn to be aggressive and see how they handle it.”

India, chasing an unlikely 340 to win on the final day of an absorbing series, are still not out of it.

“We are expecting a few firecrackers from Virender Sehwag,” Harbhajan cautioned.

“If he gets going, then who knows what can happen. The new ball will be important because Steyn has bowled very well this series, but if we get a good start we have a chance.”

It’s a long shot, but it is not completely impossible.

Unbelievably, all three results are possible as this incredible tussle of powers enters the home straight.

It is almost a pity that there will be a loser after all this, but one winner is certainly clear: Test cricket.

The grand old lady of the game has never looked so resplendent.

SCOREBOARD

South Africa first innings 362 (H. Amla 59, J. Kallis 161; S. Sreesanth 5-114)

India first innings 364 (G. Gambhir 93, S. Tendulkar 146; D. Steyn 5-75)

South Africa second innings (overnight 52-2)

G. Smith lbw b Harbhajan29

A. Petersen lbw b Harbhajan22

P. Harris lbw b Harbhajan0

H. Amla b Harbhajan2

J. Kallis not out109

A. de Villiers b Zaheer13

A. Prince c Sreesanth b Ishant22

M. Boucher lbw b Tendulkar55

D. Steyn c sub b Harbhajan32

M. Morkel c Sreesanth b Harbhajan28

L. Tsotsobe c Sehwag b Harbhajan8

Extras (lb-7, nb-12, w-2)21

TOTAL (all out, 102 overs)341

Fall of wickets: 1-50 2-52 3-53 4-64 5-98 6-130 7-233 8-287, 9-333 10-341

Bowling: Zaheer 20-2-64-1 (5nb), Sreesanth 24-3-79-0 (4nb, 1w), Ishant 18-1-62-1 (3nb, 1w), Harbhajan 38-1-120-7, Tendulkar

2-0-9-1.

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