Kolkata:India just about managed to thwart a stubborn resistance from South Africa's Hashim Amla and the tailenders to clinch a series-levelling innings and 57 runs victory in the final cricket Test to retain their status as the number one Test team on Thursday. The hosts, who needed to pick up the remaining seven wickets to draw the series 1-1, were made to wait till the very fag end of a dramatic fifth day's play for their moment of glory with Hashim Amla nearly carrying the proteas to safety with a defiant unbeaten 123. Resuming at 115 for three after conceding a mammoth 347-run first innings lead, the South Africans were all out for 290 with just 15 minutes remaining on a nail-biting last day. Spinners Harbhajan Singh (5/59) and Amit Mishra (3/84) were the wreckers-in-chief as they ripped through the South African middle order but it was the stout resistance from Amla and the tailenders which delayed the victory.
It was a remarkable effort by Amla who not only notched up his 10th Test ton but showed amazing temparament and skill to negotiate the Indian bowlers on a fifth day Eden Gardens track and very nearly saved the game for his team.
After the tea break, the Indians were literally racing against time to dismiss the last three wickets in the tense post-tea session and the injury-induced absence of Zaheer Khan did have a bearing.
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Harbhajan claimed the last wicket of Mornie Morkel, trapping him leg before wicket, to mark India's victory and send the vociferous Eden crowd into a frenzy.
The fiesty off spinner ran towards the boundary line and was soon hugged by his teammates who celebrated the victory.
Amla and Morkel defied the Indians for 124 balls to frustrate the hosts who just could not get the breakthrough despite deploying an attacking field right through the day.
But it was Amla, who achieved the rare feat of scoring centuries in all the innings he played in the series, who took the centrestage with his superb batting, occupying the crease for more than a day and facing 394 balls.
With the Test series ending with honours shared, both the teams will now gear up for the three-match one-day series beginning in Jaipur from Sunday.
With this win, India not only avenged their defeat in the Nagpur series-opener but also nixed South Africa's bid to snatch the number one Test team's tag.
South Africa began their desperate bid to save the match on a particularly sunny day and resuming on 115 for three, overnight batsmen Amla and Ashwell Prince (23) showed the kind of determination that was the need of the hour.
Amla continued his dream run in the land of his origin, looking equally comfortable against spin and pace and working the ball all around with consummate ease.
Prince was not exactly fluent during his 80-ball stay but more importantly, he hung on gamely to defy the Indian bowlers for nearly two hours.
Just before lunch, Harbhajan ended Prince's vigil during his sparkling six-over spell.
After teasing and tormenting the left-hander, Harbhajan eventually had Prince caught at mid-off by Ishant Sharma.
Mishra dealt another blow in the penultimate over before lunch, foxing AB de Villiers (3) with a googly that rapped the batsman on the pad plumb in front of wicket.
Reduced to 164 for five, South Africa needed JP Duminy (6) to come good today but the talented left-hander's lean patch continued.
Harbhajan, who has looked a vastly improved bowler in this Test, trapped Duminy with a straight one to claim the batsman for the second time in the match.
Two overs later, Harbhajan trapped Dale Steyn (1) to reduce the visitors to 180 for seven.
Things could have been worse for South Africa but substitute fielder Suresh Raina could not latch on to the edge off Wayne Parnell's bat off Ishant Sharma at wide fourth slip.
Parnell (22 batting), who came out at number nine, gave Amla fine support at the other end to frustrate the hosts after the tea break.
Playing one-bowler short in absence of Zaheer Khan, who could not take the field due to stiffness in his quadriceps of the right leg, India had problems aplenty as they sorely missed the quickie.