| Sourav Ganguly with his Man of the Match trophy and (below) Harbhajan Singh, who was named Man of the Series, in Kanpur on Sunday. (AP, PTI)
Kanpur: Mahendra Singh Dhonis fortune as captain continued to do wonders as India levelled the three-match Test series in style, beating South Africa by eight wickets at the Green Park on Sunday.
If Graeme Smith & Co. blew away the hosts in three days in the second Test at the Motera, Dhonis Team India exacted revenge on the tourists in the same fashion here, ruining their ambition of winning the series.
Dhoni, who was thrust into the job after regular captain Anil Kumble was declared unfit on the morning of the match, led marvellously with his characteristic calmness and showed that the teams future in this Future Cup was not a lost cause at all.
The fifth win against the Proteas in 21 Tests and the fourth at home also reconfirmed Indias status as No. 2 team behind Australia. A series loss would have pushed India down to the fourth position on the ladder.
Taking advantage of the 60-run lead thanks to the record tenth-wicket stand between Sreesanth and Ishant Sharma, India dismissed South Africa for a paltry 121 in their second innings.
Man of the Series Harbhajan Singh took four for 44 and part-time bowler Virender Sehwag returned his career best figures of 8.5-2-12-3 to bring India within the sight of victory well before the Day III stumps.
India took just 13.1 overs and 57 minutes to notch up the required target of 62, losing the openers Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer.
Both the openers made their intention clear, finishing the match in no time. Sehwag hit Paul Harris for back-to-back sixes before his departure, being caught by Ashwell Prince at backward point.
In a surprise move, Dhoni promoted Man of the Match Sourav Ganguly up the order after Jaffer (10) was trapped by Morne Morkel leaving India in a mini crisis.
Rahul Dravid (18) and Sourav (13) then ensured no further damage was done, steering India to the target hands down.
The South Africans never looked at ease with the crumbling pitch and sensing the panic in the visitors camp, Dhoni introduced Harbhajan from the very first over in the second essay.
Harbhajan made full use of the pitch and wickets started falling in regular interval.
Sreesanth provided his team with the first breakthrough, trapping Neil McKenzie (14) to bag his 50th Test wicket in 14 matches. Hashim Amla failed to open his account and was caught brilliantly by Jaffer at forward short leg.
Only skipper Smith along with Jacques Kallis tried to shore up the innings with a 38-run third wicket partnership. But the turning track, Indias spin magic and Dhonis intelligent captaincy all led to their downfall.
Dhoni, looking for a quick result, shuffled his bowling and quickly brought Sehwag in place of Sreesanth and the result was immediate. Kallis (15) had no clue to a sharply spun ball and close-in fielder Jaffer completed the formality. Next to go was Smith, Sehwag bowling him around the stumps and forcing the visitors to reel under 72 for four.
AB de Villiers, who made a sublime double hundred in the second Test, found it a different challenge to deal with, edging Harbhajan to V.V.S. Laxman at leg slip while Mark Boucher (5) was caught behind off Ishant.
Morkel was cleaned up even before he opened his account and Dravid caught Paul Harris (0) off Harbhajan.
Harbhajan and Sehwag then celebrated in tandem, dismissing Dale Steyn (7) Makhaya Ntini (0), respectively, and providing India with the chance of settling scores in a dramatic way.
If the spinners were to be given credit for their show, a part of it should also go to their new-ball bowlers, who assumed a different role with the bat.
Sreesanth and Ishant frustrated South African bowlers for 11.4 overs early in the morning, producing 37 runs during that period. Some sloppy fielding also helped the Indians cause.
Sreesanth sneaked a Ntini delivery through the first and second slips in the days third over taking the hosts to 300.
The lanky Delhi-pacer, on the other end, survived a close lbw call and was dropped by Harris. The duo put up 46 runs altogether in the highest tenth-wicket partnership for India against the South Africans.
Harris eventually removed Sreesanth, but by then India had already taken a vital 60-run lead. The visitors couldnt recover from that early-morning set-back, as Indian spinners went for the jugular in typical fashion.