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Gritty Gambhir Leads India To 1-1 Draw


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An insipid performance from India's bowlers on the fourth day had broken their aspirations of a maiden Test series victory in South Africa but, on the fifth, the batsmen ensured they achieved at least a draw for the first time in the country. In an anticlimactic end to an enthralling contest, Gautam Gambhir was at the forefront of the Indian resistance, Rahul Dravid blocked lots of balls, and South Africa's bowlers toiled 82 overs for three wickets, when they needed ten.

South Africa fell behind early in their pursuit of victory and eventually took only one wicket in each session. The key to their chances lay in how many they dismissed with the new ball, and India won a decisive battle by surviving the first 11 overs without damage. Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel weren't as hostile as they were in the first innings but still bowled aggressively in the morning. Once that threat passed, India's passage was easier. They survived one more flutter of anxiety, soon after Dravid fell late in the second session, when AB de Villiers failed to catch an extremely tough chance off Gambhir. The game was called off with umpteen fielders waiting for catches that never came, and South Africa were still winless in a series at home since Bangladesh's visit in November 2008.

India did not try to win this deciding Test on its final morning - the target of 340 was always out of reach - but because they focused on survival and scored at about two runs an over, Graeme Smith was able to place as many close catchers as he pleased. Steyn got the ball to seam and swing away, though he wasn't as terrific as he was on the third day. Morkel posed the greater threat, targeting the bodies of both openers with balls that jagged into them from short of a length. One screamer from round the wicket rose so steeply that even Gambhir's best efforts to avoid it failed. The ball thudded painfully into his left arm, just below the elbow. It was the same injured arm that kept him off the field during South Africa's second innings and has ruled him out of the ODI series. Gambhir got it treated, and took guard again.

It made sense for Gambhir to try and face Steyn, while Sehwag countered Morkel. Steyn's swing into the left-hander's pads made it easier for Gambhir to face him. Sehwag, however, struggled against Morkel, getting hustled by deliveries that homed in at his body and beaten by others that straightened.

South Africa's first chance came when Lonwabo Tsotsobe replaced Steyn in the 11th over and Sehwag slashed him. The ball flew towards JP Duminy, standing deeper at point, and burst through his hands as he mistimed his jump. The let-off cost South Africa only a few deliveries, though, for in the next over Sehwag hung his bat out and edged Morkel to Boucher. Umpire Ian Gould asked the third umpire to check if Morkel had overstepped. He hadn't, by the smallest of margins. Sehwag's dismal tour was over; 144 runs in six innings was all he got.

The pressure eased when Tsotsobe and Harris were operating. Gambhir and Dravid blocked, left, and blocked some more. Dravid was careful to play Harris with bat in front of pad, ensuring nothing would pop up to the close catchers. The ball was turning, and it was seaming, but it was doing both slowly. India passed 50 when Gambhir jumped down the pitch and drove Harris to the cover boundary, but runs were of little consequence.

On either side of the lunch break, Smith brought himself on to bowl offbreaks and a couple spun sharply. He changed his bowlers frequently but for the majority of the second session Gambhir and Dravid were untroubled and they collected easy runs by exploiting unprotected boundaries. Gambhir slashed and cut Steyn through point twice and reached a valuable half-century. Dravid simply used up deliveries and scored when he could, scoring three soft fours in a Smith over. Before those boundaries he had played 89 balls for 18 runs.

In the 44th over, just when the Test seemed to be entering a phase of defensive torpor, Harris began to make things happen off the pitch. He ripped and bounced one sharply across Dravid and later in the over struck him low on the back foot in front of middle stump. The ball hit pad before bat but Gould said not out. Dravid played only 15 more balls, though, before edging Tsotsobe off the front foot to the cordon.

The opportunity to dismiss Gambhir, on 62 off 146 balls, came soon after, when a leading edge flew quickly to de Villiers at silly point. He grabbed repeatedly at the sharp chance but spilled the ball and Harris held his head. Gambhir played 37 more balls. Tendulkar was solid for 91 deliveries and he remained unbeaten, walking off Newlands with the series shared. VVS Laxman too couldn't be budged, after Gambhir had gloved Steyn's short ball down the leg side for 64. It was Boucher's 499th catch.

Steyn and Morkel's spells after tea were South Africa's last chance. They returned for one final attempt, an over each with the second new ball. Both were fruitless. India scored only 166 runs today and saved the series.

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