DURBAN – It was a case of close but no cigar for the South Africa ‘A’ side in Bengaluru as they lost their opening ‘Test’ against their Indian counterparts late on the fourth and final day.
The final analysis sounded comprehensive, as only an innings and 30 runs can, but the team directly below the Proteas took things a lot further than the end of the third day had suggested they might.
For a large chunk of yesterday, which also saw a rain delay at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, the tourists looked as if they might do enough to salvage the unlikeliest of draws.
Rudi Second (94) found dogged company in Shaun von Berg and the pair took matters deep into the final day as India had to scrap hard for the remaining four scalps.
The difference ultimately was that India’s bowlers never allowed the South Africans to get comfortable at the crease - theirs was a battle for survival rather than supremacy.
It was slow going but by the time play resumed on the final morning there was only one team in with a chance of victory.
Having slumped to six for three early in their second dig, South Africa’s sole aim was to steal a draw and go into the final match of the series still in with a chance of claiming the spoils.
For a long time, Von Berg and the impressive Second looked as if they would suck the drama out of the matter and produce a rearguard as famous as that of Adelaide 2012 from their senior compatriots.
South Africa’s keeper-batsman completed a fine individual performance with a Second helping of 94 to match his first innings effort, as well as four dismissals behind the stumps. His stock continues to rise, and Von Berg proved that the faith afforded him by the Titans - who now see him as a genuine all-rounder - is not misplaced.
Together they absorbed the pressure from India for nearly three hours, mixing concentration with occasional enterprise. Von Berg fell just after he reached a notable half-century, caught off the bowling of Rajneesh Gurbani.
India could smell victory once more and it was Yuzvendra Chahal, who made quite a splash during India’s tour of South Africa in the summer, who eventually got Second.
That opened the floodgates as South Africa’s last three wickets fell in just 11 balls, with the impressive Mohammed Siraj claiming another five scalps for a full house of 10 in the match.
In the cold light of reflection, Khaya Zondo’s team will know that they neither made enough runs, nor exerted nearly enough pressure with the ball. They allowed India A to make 584 in one gulp, and couldn’t match that in two attempts.
Those are the fundamentals of red-ball cricket, and India A upstaged them emphatically in those regards.
The stoic scrapping of Second and Von Berg on the final morning would have reminded the rest that runs can come in India, and they will need to take that optimism into the second match of the series.