Eight runs short of history...

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Faf du Plessis fighting innings at the Wanderers took the Proteas close to what would have been a remarkable victory. Picture: Duif du Toit

Final Day

India 280 and 421

South Africa 244 and 450/7

Match Drawn

 

Should they have chased history at the end? If South Africa don’t win in Durban, will they look back at the decision on Sunday, not to go for the 16 runs required for victory after Faf du Plessis’ dismissal, with a truckload of regret?

India didn’t want them to have a sniff. Mahendra Singh Dhoni instructed Mohammed Shami to “bounce” Dale Steyn in the third last over of the day – the bowler did so five times – so trying to score those runs wasn’t easy.

India had given up on the win with 15 overs to play, no matter how macho Virat Kohli tried to sound afterwards. They got scared – who wants to be known as the team that conceded 458 in the final innings to lose a Test?

When they pitched up here on Sunday morning, saving the game, as Graeme Smith said afterwards was South Africa’s only mission – and rightly so. India bowled beautifully in the first innings – their quest for eight wickets to win was a far more realistic outcome.

They made their first breakthrough 49 minutes into the day, when Alviro Petersen, who never looked settled, inside edged the ball on to his stumps off the bowling of the impressive Shami. Petersen made 76, and probably did enough to save his Test career for the foreseeable future.

The morning’s play was invigorating thanks to Jacques Kallis’ decision to counter-attack. India were still keeping attacking fields, and the veteran produced a calculated counter-attack that forced Dhoni to take out some of the fielders in catching positions.

Kallis eventually fell to an umpire’s error, Australian official Rod Tucker adjudging him lbw, but replays showed he got a massive inside edge on to his pads. DRS anyone? It was Zaheer Khan’s 300th wicket and it certainly pepped India up in that first session. By lunch, South Africa had reached 236/4 and saving the Test, at that point remained their only mission.

For that to happen they needed to bat through the afternoon without losing a wicket, which is exactly what they accomplished thanks to Du Plessis and AB de Villiers.

It was an extraordinary performance from the Afrikaans Hoër Seunskool graduates. Du Plessis was in the midst of one of those “Zen-like” performances he produced in Adelaide last November, when he batted for over seven hours to save the second Test against Australia. India’s fast bowlers throughout the Test have pitched the ball up to the South African batsmen, seeking swing and awkward movement off the surface. It worked a treat amidst the collapse they engineered in the first innings when South Africa slumped to 16/5 in 39 balls, but yesterday Du Plessis and De Villiers picked them off through the leg-side.

Du Plessis was the more defensive, with De Villiers adopting Kallis’ strategy, pushing the field back by searching out the boundary, while stroking the ball into gaps.

De Villiers and Du Plessis brought up their centuries, Du Plessis his third, in just his 10th Test, De Villiers, his 18th in his 88th.

Shortly after reaching his hundred, De Villiers, chopped the ball onto his leg-stump trying to guide the ball to third man, it was a shot he’d played well throughout, just not executed properly when he reached 103. JP Duminy lasted nine minutes, and his wicket gave India the belief they could suddenly win.

Some boundaries from Vernon Philander scared Dhoni off, and there were more defensive fields from the Indian captain as the runs required figure dropped from 51 to 16.

Then Du Plessis ran himself out – it was his call and, like Smith the previous day, he hit the ball straight to Ajinkye Rahane, who produced a direct hit. Du Plessis was crestfallen, but gosh what an innings he played. He made 134, was at the crease for 395 minutes, faced 309 balls and hit 15 fours. It was a monumental effort.

With him out, neither side wanted to chase the win. But three more wickets? Eight more runs?

 

Plays of the Test match

INNINGS – Okay look, Virat Kohli got Man of the Match for his two outstanding efforts with the bat. Cheteshwar Pujara’s 153 was among the most technically masterful Test innings you could ever wish to see. But think back to how you were feeling at about 5pm yesterday. That tension, that “could they really pull this off feeling?” you had. What created that? Answer: AB de Villiers’ 103 and Faf du Plessis’ 134. Du Plessis’ spot was in question before this Test, it won’t be for the remainder of the summer.

SPELL – Ishant Sharma’s spell after tea on day two. South Africa had resumed on 118/1 after the interval. Then Sharma struck, in the fourth over after tea, twice. First Hashim Amla shouldered arms to one that tracked back into him and hit his off-stump and then Jacques Kallis was trapped lbw by a full, fast, straight ball. That spell changed the game, from then India held the upper hand. Until the final session yesterday.

RUN OUTS – Ajinkye Rahane, take a bow. Yes, the singles were ill-judged by both Du Plessis on Sunday and Graeme Smith on Saturday, but the ball still needed to be picked up and thrown and then hit the stumps. Rahane did so on both occasions and both times changed the outlook of the match.

QUOTE – “The context was, that from day two we were behind in this Test match and not many people gave us a chance to be in this position. I hope people through the emotion of wanting more, always, can see and respect the efforts the team has put in.” – Graeme Smith, responding to a query about the public booing after the match.

HERO – Du Plessis. Yes, he didn’t win Man of the Match, but the fact that the match got down to such a dramatic conclusion was largely as a result of him and De Villiers.

VILLAIN – The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Two Tests, Mr Srinivasan. Two? You’ve robbed the South African public, Indian viewers, and the wider cricket-watching world of the opportunity of seeing a terrific series unfold. Your selfishness deserves censorship in India. One can only hope the Indian public, advertisers and broadcasters realise what a detriment you’ve been to the game of cricket. Get out.

The Star


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