Nagpur: Ravichandran Ashwin displayed his magic yet again to record a career-best figures of 7/66 as India clinched the four-match series against South Africa by taking an unassailable 2-0 lead with an emphatic 124-run win in the third cricket Test.
Spinning a web of deceit, Ashwin had a superb match haul of 12 for 98, while leg spinner Amit Mishra claimed 3 for 51 as the hosts shot out the visitors for 185 in 89.5 overs in the second innings to wrap up the match 52 minutes after the tea session.
R Ashwin celebrates with Ajinkya Rahane. Pic/ AFP
This was also Virat Kohli's first Test series win as a captain on home soil and also marked an end to South Africa's track record of not losing a Test series away from home for nine long years.
South Africa needed to score 310 to score for a series- levelling win but woefully fell short of the target, unable to negotiate the Indian spin threat led by 29-year-old Ashwin who completed his 4th 10-wicket haul in a match in his 31st Test. Ashwin's second innings victims included three left- handers - the opening duo of Dean Elgar, Stiaan van Zyl and Jean-Paul Duminy - apart from the prize wicket of AB de Villiers, the visitors' most successful batsman on this visit.
Hashim Amla plays a shot as Kohli looks on. Pic/ AFP
He fittingly took the last wicket, by clean bowling last man Morne Morkel through the gate in his final devastating spell of 4 for 16 in 19 balls. However, it was Mishra, who got the important breakthrough in the second session to break the stubborn 72- run fifth wicket stand between rival captain Hashim Amla (39) and Faf du Plessis (39), the visitors' highest of the match after their capitulation for their lowest-ever total against India of 79 in the first innings.
Mishra got rid of Amla to end the partnership and also packed off du Plessis soon afterwards before Ashwin polished off the tail with the second new ball in a devastating spell. With India winning at Mohali and Nagpur and the game in Bengaluru being washed out, the teams will play the inconsequential final Test at Delhi's Feroz Shah Kotla from December 3.
The loss also ended South Africa's enviable nine-year away record without a series defeat. They had last lost to Sri Lanka 0-2 in 2006 and then were undefeated in 14 rubbers since then till today's reversal against India.
The visitors stared a tough task going into the third day on a turning track, starting the day at 32 for 2, needing to score 278 more runs.
The only time they showed some gumption was when Amla and du Plessis defied the home attack from the first hour of the pre-lunch session till the end of the first hour after the break.
But once it was breached by Mishra when he got rid of Amla, it was a question of time for India to race to victory. Mishra's twin blows in six balls in successive overs in the second hour after lunch to send back both rival captain Hashim Amla (39) and Faf du Plessis (39) and bring the home team closer to victory after the fifth wicket duo stonewalled for seven minutes under three hours in adding 72 runs.
South African batsman Faf du Plessis bowled by Indian bowler Amit Mishra during the third day of the 3rd test match in Nagpur, Maharashtra on Friday. Pic/PTI
The pair, who came together in the first hour before lunch, held on till the second hour after the break by defending stoutly against the spinning ball before Mishra broke the stand by dismissing Amla with a classical leg break to have the rival skipper caught by a leaping home team captain Virat Kohli at short gully.
Amla, who had scored 253 at this ground for a winning cause five years ago but has been woefully out of form on this tour, had kept the Indians at bay for 219 minutes and hit just 2 fours in his 167-ball knock.
Du Plessis, who showed admirable patience till his skipper's departure, lost it five balls later when he played an ill-advised pull shot to a ball that kept low from Mishra and clean bowled him.
These two dismissals have reduced whatever little hopes the visitors had of reaching the far-away target and keep the series alive even on a pitch that still aided spin but seemed to have lost some venom of the first two days.
The home team's bowlers were kept at bay by the stone- walling tactics of Amla and Du Plessis resulting in the post- lunch hour of play producing a measly 21 runs in 19 overs. The duo, in the process, came up with the longest partnership of the series overtaking the one between Murali Vijay and Cheteshwar Pujara in the series opener at Mohali.
Du Plessis, having been let off once in the first session, survived a close call early on in the second session. He was struck on the pad by Ashwin in the first over after resumption and the strong appeal by the Indians was turned down. Ashwin changed ends and started bowling from the pavilion end, but started bowling a bit fast and did not trouble batsmen with defensive mindset to the extent that they did earlier, on a track that has slowed down a bit.
Jadeja and Mishra could also not make much of an impression on the two batsmen intent on defense eschewing risks. The duo had batted together for seven minutes under three hours when Mishra produced a looping leg break to catch the edge of Amla's defensive bat. This was the break that the hosts wanted after the show of defiance and came only in the second hour of the post lunch session and Mishra's figures read an impressive 3 for 40 at tea, his first wicket having come yesterday in the form of night watchman Imran Tahir.
In the morning, chasing the formidable victory target of 310 set by the hosts last evening to stay alive in the series, the visitors slumped to 58 for four, losing two second innings wickets this morning to the two conceded yesterday, before showing some fight to take the visitors to lunch at 105 for 4. Ashwin was the lone Indian bowler to taste success in the morning by accounting for the two wickets to fall - overnight not out batsman Dean Elgar for 18 and the visitors' major hope AB de Villiers for 9 in the space of 18 balls with classical off spinner's thought process.
The Tamil Nadu off-spinner's first spell of the day was an impressive 5-0-15-2 before he finished with 3 for 50 at tea.
Later, India could have sent back Amla, who had notched 253 at this venue in 2010 when South Africa emerged winners by an innings, as well as du Plessis too as both were given 'lives' by the fielders.
Ishant, coming on for a second spell, got du Plessis (5 out of 79 for 4) to edge between the 'keeper and slip fielder and then Amla (23 out of 83 for 4) drove at Mishra expansively and Rahane could not pouch the low catch in slips.
The duo then took the team to lunch without being separated with Du Plessis even hitting a six off Ravindra Jadeja's left-arm spin.