Cape Town:Jacques Kallis was immense, for the second time in this deciding Test, and his strength of will and mastery of technique dragged South Africa out of danger and then gave them the strongest advantage enjoyed by either team in this gripping contest. Kallis battled the challenges posed by India's bowlers on a wearing pitch, and the constraints and pain of strained side, to become the only South African to score two centuries in a home Test. His partnerships of 103 with Mark Boucher, who was also under pressure to perform, and 54 with Dale Steyn came after India were rampant, and they put South Africa in pole position to win the series. The stand of 46 with Morne Morkel simply poured acid into India's gaping wounds.
India's performance during the first session of this pivotal day was aggressive, but they couldn't have been more listless in the second and third. On a pitch with cracks that were widening, rough areas that were worsening and bounce that was becoming increasingly variable, India took three wickets and conceded only 69 runs before lunch. They even picked up a sixth wicket soon after the break, when South Africa's lead was only 128. And then they went to pot, largely due to Kallis' skill and Boucher's grit, but also because Harbhajan Singh ran out of ideas, Zaheer Khan's pace and fitness levels plummeted, and Ishant Sharma's lines and lengths were atrocious. South Africa added 91 for 1 in the second session, and 129 for 3 in the last. Harbhajan finished with 7 for 120 but only after South Africa's tailenders, Lonwabo Tsotsobe included, hit him around.
Kallis began his masterpiece in the second over of the morning, after Harbhajan had spun an offbreak viciously to trap Alviro Petersen lbw on the back foot. He watched Amla deflect another offbreak off his arm onto the stumps while sweeping. South Africa had lost 4 for 14.
The leg-side field was packed for Harbhajan, with fielders at short leg, leg gully, midwicket, square leg and a man on the boundary. Kallis saw empty expanses on the off side and sent the ball to the point and third-man boundaries by reverse-sweeping Harbhajan. He was playing against the turn, against the bounce, but used the stroke effectively and forced Dhoni to change his field. Kallis then countered Harbhajan by staying back, moving across, playing extremely late and taking the bottom hand off the bat while fending the ball down on the leg side.
AB de Villiers struggled to score against Sreesanth, who operated on a tight length outside off stump. Zaheer too kept him quiet, with balls that angled in from round the wicket before seaming away off the pitch. It was the one that came back in that got the wicket, the ball uprooting off and middle stump as de Villiers was late in pulling out of the shot. Kallis continued to battle, the bowling and his injured side. When he pressed forward to one delivery from Harbhajan that spat up at him, he had to jerk to fend it down. He survived it, but was clutching his ribs in pain and lay down on the ground. It was a sight that his cheering fans in Newlands saw several times today.
After lunch, Kallis continued performing with uninterrupted resolve. India didn't. Ishant was lucky to dismiss Prince with a short and wide delivery that was slashed to point, but it was his lines against Boucher that marked the beginning of India's slide. Boucher glanced two deliveries down leg side to the boundary and slapped a wide ball through cover. Ishant's lines and lengths were so erratic that MS Dhoni had no choice but to take him off.
Harbhajan continued to turn the ball, and the odd one jumped, but his attack became predictable and Boucher soon got used to it. Kallis had got used to it long ago. India's biggest concern, though, was Zaheer, who returned for a two over spell an hour after lunch and bowled at speeds between 115 and 120 kph. He moved the ball at harmless speeds.
South Africa's lead passed 150, Kallis became his country's highest run-scorer for a three-Test series, and when he straight drove Ishant to the boundary to reach his half-century, the Newlands crowd loved it. In the first over after tea, Kallis drove Sreesanth to the straight boundary, and powered on.
Boucher had taken tea on 46 having scored most of his runs on the leg side through sweeps and glances. A back-foot push off Harbhajan on the off, though, brought up his 50 off 74 balls and its briskness was instrumental in blunting India. It took a shooter from Sachin Tendulkar, bowling the 79th over, to trap Boucher lbw.
India took the new ball immediately and Steyn mowed a short one from Sreesanth over deep midwicket for six. The lead swelled past 250. Steyn then welcomed Harbhajan's new spell with a monstrous hit over wide long-on. Harbhajan eventually picked up his fifth wicket - Steyn - 28 overs after his fourth.
Kallis watched his partners clout and go but he remained steady and unbeaten. A non-descript single to square leg off Harbhajan brought up his 40th century, moving clear of Ricky Ponting's tally of 39. Graeme Smith led the cheers in the dressing room, the Indians applauded and Newlands to celebrated its superhero. Kallis took of his helmet and beamed, betraying not a trace of the discomfort he was in. It was his finest moment in his finest Test.