Sachin Tendulkar's defiant ton merely delayed the inevitable as India crashed to a humiliating innings and six runs defeat against South Africa in the first cricket Test here today.
The miracle that India needed to save the match did not happen and even though Tendulkar (100) starred in two brief partnerships and the tail wagged for a while too, it was not enough to avert what was Mahendra Singh Dhoni's first Test defeat as captain that came with full one day to spare.
Following on, the home side that resumed on 66 for two this morning, folded for 319 in their second essay to allow South Africa to take a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.
Down the order, Wriddhiman Saha (36), Harbhajan Singh (39) and Zaheer Khan (33) showed the kind of grit that was missing in most of their frontline batting colleagues.
India will now have to win the next match in Kolkata, starting on Sunday, failing which they would surrender the number one Test team's tag to the South Africans.
The defeat also exposed the batting frailties of the home side which sorely missed veterans Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, both recovering from injuries, in the middle order.
Tendulkar's 46th Test century, his fourth against the South Africans and first at home against the Proteas, was the lone significant knock in the entire Indian innings.
Tendulkar added 72 runs with Vijay for the third wicket and another 70 with Dhoni for the fifth. More
Tendulkar's 179-ball knock included 13 fours before he went for a sweep and missed the Paul Harris delivery which bounced on his thigh pad and hit the elbow guard before dislodging the bails.
Whatever ambitious hopes India had of saving the match died with this freaky dismissal and the rest was mere formalities for their opponents.
Down the order, Harbhajan Singh struck a run-a-ball 39 to frustrate the South Africans before Parnell sent him back. Saha and Zaheer also tried their best but it was too late and too little.
For South Africa, Dale Steyn returned a match-haul of 10 for 108.
Earlier, Tendulkar featured in a 72-run stand with Murali Vijay (32) and another 70 with Dhoni (25) to rekindle the Indian hopes.
Tendulkar and Vijay started the morning well with both looking determined to dig their heels.
Thirty runs were added to the score when Vijay, looking quite compact and sound in defence against Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel, fell to poor shot selection.
He could not resist the urge to sweep left-arm spinner Paul Harris and Morne Morkel took the resulting top edge at deep backward square leg.
S Badrinath (6) had raised hopes with his debut half-century in the first innings but he could not continue the good work and perished edging a Parnell delivery that nestled into Mark Boucher's safe hands. More
Tendulkar, meanwhile, was lucky to see his glide off Parnell grassed by Jacques Kallis in the the lone slip while the batsman was on 45.
Tendulkar subsequently was watchful but did not spare bad balls either. He and Dhoni rekindled India's hopes with a steady partnership and the sparse crowd at the VCA Stadium roared in appreciation after Tendulkar reached his 46th Test century.
But the joy was shortlived as Tendulkar could not add any more runs and fell to a Harris delivery.
Seventeen runs later, Harris was at it again as he scalped Dhoni, dealing a brutal blow to the Indian hopes. Dhoni got an inside edge that hit the pad before finding the silly point fielder.
With no real hopes of saving the match, Harbhajan batted with the recklessness and freedom that are his wont.
He hit Harris for back-to-back-fours and then cleared the long on ropes to score at a brisk rate before Parnell trapped him in front of the wicket to cut short his batting daredevilry.
Harbhajan's breezy, entertaining knock included six hits to the fence besides that six.
Wriddhiman Saha also tried to compensate for his first innings duck on debut with a gritty 101-ball knock but the writing was clear on the wall by then.
Zaheer took 57 balls for his 33, which included four boundaries and a couple of sixes.
South Africa first innings: 558/6 declared
India first innings: 233 all out
India second innings: Overnight 66/2 in 23 overs.
Gautam Gambhir b Morkel 1
Virender Sehwag c Smith b Steyn 16
Murali Vijay c Morkel b Harris 32
Sachin Tendulkar b Harris 100
Subramaniam Badrinath c †Boucher b Parnell 6
Mahendra Singh Dhoni*† c de Villiers b Harris 25
Wriddhiman Saha lbw b Steyn 36
Harbhajan Singh lbw b Parnell 39
Zaheer Khan c Harris b Kallis 33
Amit Mishra b Steyn 0
Ishant Sharma not out 0
Extras (B 15, LB 8, W 6, NB 2) 31
Total (all out in 107.1 overs) 319
Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-24, 3-96, 4-122, 5-192, 6-209, 7-259, 8-318, 9-318, 10-319.
Bowling: Dale Steyn 18.1-1-57-3, Morne Morkel 21-6-65-1, Wayne Parnell 13-2-58-2, Paul Harris 38-17-76-3, Jacques Kallis 12-3-19-1, Jean-Paul Duminy 5-0-21-0.
South Africa Beat India By Innings and 6 Runs
S S Ramaswamy/Nagpur
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