India rebounded from its innings loss in Centurion to rip through South Africa's batting lineup and win the second test at Kingsmead by 87 runs on Wednesday, leveling the three-match series between cricket's top two test teams.
Fast bowlers Zaheer Khan and Shanthakumaran Sreesanth shared six wickets in South Africa's second innings as top-ranked India removed seven batsmen for only 114 runs in 45.3 overs on day four in Durban. It bowled out the home team for 215 an hour after lunch to win with a day and a half to spare. Khan claimed 3-57 and Sreesanth 3-45.
Offspinner Harbhajan Singh returned match figures of 6-80 and fit-again, left-arm pace man Khan had 6-93 _ having helped bundle out South Africa for 131 in its first innings _ to lead India to just its second test win in the country.
The result also ensured India will hold on to its No. 1 test ranking. A 3-0 series win for South Africa would have moved the Proteas to the top of the standings. The countries now face a series-deciding match in Cape Town, starting on Jan. 2.
India has lost all four of its previous test series in South Africa and had its No. 1 ranking put in question after a heavy defeat in the first match.
The touring team, however, clawed its way back into the contest with a strong bowling display on a fast, bouncy Kingsmead pitch, and a crucial 96 from VVS Laxman in the second innings to set up the match-winning lead.
"It's a great feeling to bounce back after what happened in Centurion and to come back strong," said Laxman, who won the man-of-the-match award. "Full credit to the boys, the way the boys backed each other and the way we fought. I think we showed a lot of character.
"I always take pride in what I do overseas ... and beating South Africa in South Africa and contributing to this win, definitely my innings is up there."
India captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni applauded his team for responding well from the Centurion loss, nominating his bowlers for special praise.
"The performance was important, especially after the first test," Dhoni said. "We were worried about winning a test match when it comes to taking 20 wickets, but I was very pleased with the performance of the bowlers out there."
Laxman's beautifully controlled 49th test half-century was the only score above 50 in a match dominated by bowlers, with South Africa facing a tough test chasing 303 to win the game and wrap up the series.
Only twice before has a team made more than 300 in the fourth innings to win a test at Kingsmead. On Wednesday, the Proteas never threatened that record as India took wickets at regular intervals _ and only a 33-run partnership for the ninth wicket between Ashwell Prince and Morne Morkel briefly provided some resistance for the home team.
South Africa was twice bowled out for below-par scores in Durban after batting once for 620-4 declared in its dominant first-test win.
"We haven't batted well in this game," South Africa captain Graeme Smith said. "I think its the first time in a long time that our batters have let us down.
"We will reassess and go to Cape Town to work before that test match. It's obviously become a very important test match in the series now."
With South Africa 111-3 overnight, and the game finely balanced, Sreesanth delivered a fierce short ball in the eighth over of the day that Jacques Kallis gloved to Virender Sehwag at gully for India's crucial first breakthrough.
Kallis' departure for 17 was swiftly followed by the dismissals of A.B. de Villiers for 33 and Mark Boucher for 1. Both were controversial lbw decisions, with replays suggesting both deliveries would have missed the stumps.
Dale Steyn then edged Khan to Cheteshwar Pujara in the slips as South Africa limped to lunch on 182-7, and India sensed a second test victory in 14 matches in the country. The home team had managed just four boundaries in 32 overs in the first session.
Paul Harris was bowled by Khan in the second over after lunch, before Prince and Morkel temporarily held up India's charge toward a second win in South Africa in 14 matches.
Morkel carved out three fours in his 20, making use of his second chance after he was caught by Sehwag off a no-ball from Sharma. But the game was just about up when Morkel edged behind to Dhoni off Sharma for South Africa to slump to 215-9.
Lonwabo Tsotsobe was run out brilliantly for a duck to seal India's win, Pujara collecting the ball at short leg and throwing down the stumps in one swift motion to catch the No. 11 batsman out of his crease.
Prince was 39 not out for the second highest score of the match. He hit three fours in his 108-ball resistance.