India celebrate their win at the Wanderers in the third and final test against the Proteas. Photo: BackpagePix
In the end, in a funny kind of way, everyone won. The spirit of the final day at The Bullring was encapsulated by the comical run-out attempt by Hardik Pandya, when India’s proud victory was all but assured.

As the stout Dean Elgar called last-man Lungi Ngidi for a sharp single, the predatory Pandya panthered in from cover. He then took three extra strides, leaving him less than five metres from the stumps, with Ngidi still trying to get through the gears.

The crowd of nigh-on 14 000 held its collective, boozy breath, anticipating India’s fightback to be sealed with a thunderous shattering timber. And then he missed! Boy, did he miss! The crowd roared. India’s fielders released their last bit of tension, and let rip with laughter.

South Africa  vanquished, but humour still intact  did the same on their balcony. For a moment, the Freedom Series went back to being the Friendship Series of old, as all within the bellowing bowels of South Africa’s rowdiest cricket guffawed in unison.

At that moment, everyone was a winner.

The match was India’s, the series was South Africa’s and, significantly, Saturday was still there for the people of Joburg to enjoy an entertaining spectacle that was very nearly spoilt by a spicy pitch. That spice was eventually doused at dusk, as the sprinklers immediately went onto the square at The Wanderers, as the ground-staff pressed ‘Control, Alt and an emphatic Delete’ on a patch that went too far.

Virat Kohli, who punched the air and let out his own roar when India’s defiant deed was done, reminded the media that India were still top of the tree.

“We are the number one side in the world, and today we played like it,” Kohli glistened.

There was satisfaction there, and it was thoroughly deserved.

Significantly, this was a win for India that saw the credit spread across the playing XI. Kohli, naturally, made crucial runs. But so too did the recalled Ajinkya Rahane.

At first-drop, Cheteshwar Pujara’s first-day, 54-ball stutter on 0 was given significant sheen by the struggle of many others to even face as many balls in total.

The Indian pace pack put an exclamation mark on their emergence as men eager to hit the road as often as possible from now on. India, winning without spin? Who would have ever figured?

There were heroes on South Africa’s side, too, mind. None was bigger than Elgar, surely the blind-side flank of the Proteas if they ever tried their hand at rugby.

Elgar admitted that his body looked as if he had played a Test for the Springboks rather than a cricket five-dayer, but bruises are badges of pride to the tenacity atop the Proteas batting card.

“I’m never going to play an AB de Villiers knock. If you are looking for that, you will have to go elsewhere,” he reasoned.

Elgar took pride in his own knock, which became a battle that went far beyond a matter between bat and ball. But he will tell you that there is no I in team.

“It’s bittersweet. I played well, but we lost.”

He may have lost the match, but Elgar surely won over a lot of skeptics, as his special kind of resilience gave South Africa hope for half the day. In the end, India wanted it more.

“We spoke a lot about maintaining the intensity after Centurion, but our actions spoke louder than our words,” skipper Faf du Plessis admitted.

“India were better than us, and they brought greater intensity into this match.”

And, truth be told, the visitors deserved it, because 3-0 would have been a harsh return for their role in what has been a fascinating series, despite conditions which were on the Eish side of fun.

As India’s men in whites left the stadium by bus, they were given a rousing send-off by fans from both sides. They definitely deserved it.

After a tense Friday afternoon at The Bullring, they rose on Saturday and willed themselves to a terrific victory. The fun of this rivalry will continue in coloured pyjamas from now on, but no one will forget the Bruising Battle at the Bullring soon.

Sunday Tribune

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