India went into the Kolkata test [SCORECARD] with plenty of problems. They were thoroughly outplayed in Nagpur and looked hardly like the number one ranked test team. The team battling with injuries to key batsmen and some uneventful selection decision left India in a must win; back against the wall situation. A scenario where they had to win the Kolkata test if they were to remain the World Champions. The start was uneventful even before a ball was bowled as lots of discussion went into the type of pitch prepared at the Eden Gardens. Nature conspired against India and so did time, injuries and an unrelenting South African team lead by Hashim Amla.
The match started with South Africa winning the toss and elected to bat first on a beautiful track and replaying the Nagpur nightmare as they went into tea sitting pretty at 228 for just the loss of two wickets. Things looked ominous. But after tea, India struck back as Ishant, Zaheer and Harbhajan found themselves among the wickets. The next day South Africa was dismissed for 296 runs and India piled on the runs on the backs of Sehwag and Tendulkar who carved themselves a well deserved century. Day 3 was another Indian day as M.S. Dhoni and Kolkata's favorite son - V.V.S. Laxman pushed India forward and declared at a summit of 643 runs, leading the visitors by 347 runs. Day four was a day when the rain God's played havoc on India and let only 35 odd overs to be bowled. Nevertheless India chipped away three important wickets, leaving South Africa with seven wickets and 98 overs to survive on the final day. Zaheer Khan was ruled out and India entered day three with just one pacer and two spinners. The day slowly progressed as India found themselves into the South African tail just after lunch, but then Amla came up with a masterly rear-guard play with the tail and bought his team within striking distance of salvaging a draw, when another son of Eden Gardens picked the last South African wicket to complete one of India's hardest fought victories.
The pitch was just outstanding and encouraged a dual between the bat and ball. It had good bounce, and didn't crumble like many pitches tend to do in India as the play progressed. It had a slight grass cover and aided the seamers as well as the spinners. All in all the curator produced one of the best test wickets seen in India in recent times. Where else would you have gotten a result after scoring seven centuries?
India being so thoroughly outplayed in Nagpur made a comeback that was hampered by injuries and nature that is characteristic of a champion team. The team showed great determination and grit and always had the self assurance that they were the best. The confidence and the steely resolve was seen in the third session on the first day when India reduced a menacing looking South Africa from 228 for 2 to 266 for 9.
The Indian batting which crumbled like a pack of cards in Nagpur, came up with one of it's stellar performance. Sachin and Sehwag set the match up well but it was Dhoni and Laxman who pushed home the advantage.
The Indian bowling also looks in great shape. Zaheer has been on top form and is bowling better than he ever did. Ishant looks to be making a comeback. He is looking more focused and fired up and is ready to go at the batsman. His spell on the first day was just amazing. I feel Ishant will go a long way if he works on being consistent with his line and length. Harbhajan's love affair with Eden Gardens continued as he showed his ability and talent to the world. In the absence of Kumble, Harbhajan has gone off the radar, but if todays performance is anything to go by, then he's back in business. Bhajji flighted the ball more this innings and used plenty of variations. He spun the ball and looked to vary his pace. The drifter into the left handers that got Duminy and Prince in the first innings is a perfect example of this. Also Harbhajan now looks like a more relaxed bowler. He is patient and takes his time setting a batsman up for his downfall. Amit Mishra is a youngster who showed great heart in the match. He picked up the wickets when India needed them and kept things bottled down well at one end. Mishra looks to be a more compact bowler and I see him as the future leggie of Indian cricket.
South Africa had their moments, but none was bigger than Amla. Hashim Amla batted for more than 1000 minutes in the series and scored 490 runs being dismissed only once in three innings. He single handedly almost saw South Africa home. Amla is a picture of concentration and focus. He understands his game and knows very well his weakness and strengths and plays accordingly. He is watchful and alert but at the same time isn't afraid to throw his bat at the bad deliveries. Amla is South Africa's biggest gain from the series. Averaging at 490 runs with three centuries in as many innings show that he is batting as well as ever has. He also seems to be one of the few batsman who has settled well in Indian conditions. Smith, Prince and Duminy have all failed miserably and this only elevates the value of Amla's runs. He was in for a barge of short pitched deliveries, and some of the best spin in the world, and he braved them all and looked like a man who would be unsettled at nothing. Amla, like Harbhajan raised his hand when his team needed some major contribution and did an extraordinary job. This man is destined for greatness and belongs to the same league as Rahul Dravid, Steve Waugh, and Brian Lara. It was a pity he couldn't take his team across the finishing line but after 494 runs, 1033 balls, 42 fours and 1 six later - Hashim can be incredibly proud, as he almost single-handedly took his team to the number one rank this series.
In the end the hungrier team won, and the mantle for test dominance rests with India, again.