KOLKATA, February 16- Venkatsai Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni slammed unbeaten centuries to put India in firm control of the second and final Test against South Africa on Tuesday.Laxman hit 143 and Dhoni made 132 as India piled up a record 643-6 before declaring their first innings shortly before stumps on the third day at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata.
The tourists, trailing by 347 runs, were six for no loss in their second knock when play was called off due to bad light after just five deliveries from Zaheer Khan.
India’s powerful batting boosted their chances of squaring the series after they lost the first Test in Nagpur by an innings and six runs.
A drawn series will also enable Dhoni’s men to retain their number one position in the official Test rankings.
India’s total was their highest against South Africa, surpassing the 627 during the Chennai Test in 2008.
Laxman and Dhoni put on 259 for the unbroken seventh wicket as India lost just one wicket, of nightwatchman Amit Mishra, during the day.
Laxman, who missed the Nagpur Test due to a finger injury, played some trademark pulls and drives for his 15th Test century and the fourth at the Eden Gardens.
Dhoni clobbered part-time spinner Jean-Paul Duminy for two sixes in a row and another off Paul Harris to underline India’s dominance over the second-ranked Proteas.
There were four centuries in India’s innings after Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar made hundreds on Monday.
The South Africans, who made 296 in their first knock, squandered a few chances in the field, which could prove costly as they seek their first Test series victory in India for nearly a decade.
Duminy spilled his second catch of the match when he dropped Laxman on 48 at backward point off Wayne Parnell (0-103).
Duminy had also grassed Sehwag on 47 while fielding in the slips on Monday. Sehwag went on to make 165 and set the platform for India’s huge first innings total.
Resuming at 342-5, Laxman flicked a couple of boundaries in the first over of the day by Dale Steyn, who conceded 115 runs while taking just one wicket.
Laxman faced 260 balls during his nearly six-hour stay at the wicket.
Mishra (28) enjoyed a brief flourish and a couple of reprieves before falling to an ambitious upper cut which was plucked by Jacques Kallis off Morne Morkel (2-115) at second slip.
Mishra, dropped once each by Kallis and Graeme Smith, hit five fours in his 38-ball knock. Kallis was also guilty of letting off Dhoni in the slips on 23.
Four South African bowlers conceded more than 100 runs each, with left-arm spinner Harris being the most expensive with figures of 1-182 from 50 overs.