Indians Tame The South Africans In The Bull Ring

South Africa fall 8 runs short of a sensational win against India in the first test match played at Wanderers in Johannesburg resulting in a thrilling draw. It was the same pair of Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, who were involved in saving the test match an year ago at Adelaide against Australia that almost pulled off the world record chase.

After winning the toss and batting first on a decent wicket which had enough to keep Dale Steyn and co interested, Indian batting needed to stand up and perform better than they have in the one day series preceding the test match. Although the openers didn’t score enough, they showed that there was a method and a plan to deal with the tall South African pacers. The plan was simple: leave anything outside off and let the bowlers bowl to your strength.  Anything outside the line of the stumps and they would have nothing to do with it.

India lost both their openers for not much on the scoreboard. The new No 4 Virat Kohli showed why many rate him as the best batsman in the current Indian batting line. He and the ever-compact Chesteshwar Pujara guided India past lunch with Kohli being the aggressive partner. The best part of Virat’s batting was the way he dealt with the short pitched bowling. An unfortunate mix up led to Pujara being run out. Although Rohit didn’t manage to continue his fine run, the new addition to the Indian batting line up Rahane showed the heart to dig in and play the ball on its merit. Kohli continued attacking and scored a chanceless magnificent ton. At 119 he played a loose shot off Jacques Kallis, which cost him his wicket. Day 1 ended with India at 255/5.

Day 2 began with overcast conditions and it was clear pretty soon that the ball is going to swing. Vernon Philander bowled with good movement and guile and was the pick of the seamers with 4/61 although Morne Morkel was probably the best bowler on the show. Indians were bundled out for 280 before lunch.

South Africa lost Alviro Petersen quickly but Smith and classy Hashim Amla set on rebuilding the innings. The battle between Smith and his nemesis Zaheer Khan continued where it was left the last time. Smith was thoroughly lucky for having his catch dropped by Ashwin of the bowling of Zaheer early in his innings when he chased at a ball outside.

South Africa were looking strong and poised for a good first innings total at 130/1 when Hashim Amla made an error in judgment and the left the ball, only to see it crashing into his off stump of the bowling of Ishant. Ishant then had the big player, Jacques Kallis lbw the next ball starting the Indian revival in the match. What followed after reminded the author of certain West Indian collapses in the recent times. Zaheer had Smith playing all over an inswinger, Shami had JP Duminy nicking one to the slips and had AB de Villiers caught on the crease. Suddenly the hosts were in all sorts of trouble at 140/6.

Enter Philander and he made all the other batsmen who played in front of him in the batting line up a bit silly. He left the ball beautifully, timed and placed it superbly. On one hand where Faf du Plessis was struggling to get runs, Philander was batting beautifully as if he was batting on a cement wicket. Both of them were involved in a fighting stand however early on Day 3 – parity was restored and the India got through the remaining 4 wickets and South Africa ended their first innings for 244 with Philander scoring a fluent 59 and Smith top scoring with 68.

India started the second innings of the test match with a lead of 36 runs, a good lead considering that the wicket had something for the quick bowlers and the cracks started appearing on the wicket. The condition of the wicket suggested that the game was not going to last the full five days and a quick result was eminent. Taking this into account India had to bat sensibly, something they are not very good at overseas specially taking into the account of 8 consecutive overseas loses.

India lost Dhawan quickly again, but Vijay stuck around and made a gritty 39. Although he didn’t score much he stayed around and made sure that the middle order would not have to face the new ball. Cheteshwar Pujara once again started very watchfully. The most impressive part about his game was how late he played the ball, a quality that will enable him to work his way in becoming the next WALL of Indian batting order. Pujara and Kohli told control of the match and played positively with minimum risk. The last session of the day yielded rich rewards to both players, with both of them shifting gears against a tired South African bowling and plundering runs. Pujara scored a brilliant hundred and Kohli another magnificent fifty. India plundered 175 runs in the last session of the day completely deflating the South African attack.  Tahir was the most disappointing bowler for the hosts as he served full tosses and half volleys to the Indians who very happy to make merry of the early Christmas presents. Added to the South African woes was the news of Morne Morkel injury. Morkel hurt his ankle trying to field and would not further take part in the test match and would bat only if absolutely necessary. India finished the Day 3 at 284/2 and 320 ahead.

Day 4 started with South Africa taking wickets restricting the Indian charge towards batting South Africa oout of the game. Pujara was dismissed for a fine 153 and Kohli came close to joining the elite club of players who scored centuries in both the innings of the test. He was dismissed for 96 trying to play a late cut of JP Duminy. Some late order hitting from Zaheer propelled the score to 421 and set a target of 458 for South Africa to achieve.

All the Indian fans were preparing for the victory celebrations. Alas, it aint over until the last ball is bowled or the last wicket is taken. What followed was something special, a Christmas gift for all the cricket lovers and a test match to remember for ages.

Top 5 run successful run chases in Test match cricket.

Score

Match

Date and venue

Winning team

418

West Indies v Australia

4th Test, St John’s, 9 May 2003

West Indies

414

South Africa v Australia

1st Test, Perth, 17 Dec 2008

South Africa

406

India v West Indies

3rd Test, Port of Spain, 7 Apr 1976

India

404

Australia v England

4th Test, Headingley, 22 Jul 1948

Australia

387

India v England

1st Test, Chennai, 11 Dec 2008

India

South Africa started the chase positively and the openers quicky notched up a 100 run partnership, with Petersen being the main aggressor. Smith who batted patiently and managed to survive Zaheer suddenly decided to charge down the wicket to take a risky single only to find himself short with Rahane hitting the aim correctly from the mid on. The door has opened for India and they were desperate to take a couple more before the end of the day. Hashim Amla who was out leaving a ball in the first innings followed it up with a freak dismissal second time around. Shami digged in a short ball and Amla decided to let the ball go bent down and the ball miraculously missed everything except the top of the off stump. How the ball missed everything is still a mystery. It was Faf du Plessis who came in instead of Kallis at number 4 because of the bowling workload Kallis had to take up in the earlier sessions. Day 4 ended with South Africa 138/2.

Day 5 started with India hoping to get quick wickets and South Africa hoping to pull out another miracle to save the game. South Africa lost Petersen early on for 76, but Faf du Plessis was batting well and showing the defensive technique, which earned him fame during his marathon innings in Adelaide. Kallis who joined Faf was much more aggressive and the scoreboard started to pick up pace. Kallis was unfortunate to be given out lbw on 37, the replays showing a big inside edge that somehow evaded the umpires view. Alas there is no DRS to correct umpires errors here. In came a calmer and confident AB de Villiers and he and   started to blunt the Indian attack and took South Africa to lunch without any further losses.

With still 222 required to win the game for the hosts and 6 wickets for the visitors the game was poised at a very crucial stage specially with the new ball available 6 overs after lunch. The new ball brought with it some movement and the inconsistency of bounce, which seemed to have disappeared in the pitch started to raise its head again. Deliveries jumped onto the batsman and the balls flew over the slip cordon and into empty spaces. Indians could not believe their luck (or the lack of it). The South African pair weathered the storm and slowly settled down by rotating the strike. The gap between gully and the third slip was the favorite with lot of runs scored in this region.  In between all this there were also elegant shots played by both the players. The way de Villiers was playing, it was clear that victory in the match was the only thing on his mind.

The final session started with the hosts requiring 127 runs for a world record win with 6 wickets in hand. For the Indians it was clear that they needed to break the stand between de Villiers and du Plessis. Post tea session saw Zaheer bowling unchanged for a hour around the wicket. Both the set batsmen now picked him easily and slammed to the boundary at regular interval. With the number of required runs getting lower, the tension started mounting for the viewers and the players alike. The South African duo now reached their tons and were all set for the final assault to win the game. It was Ishant Sharma who got de Villiers to inside edge onto the stumps after scoring a brilliant 103. Duminy came and went and the game was critically poised with all the three results still possible.

47 runs were required of the final 10 overs for South Africa to achieve one of the finest victories in test cricket. The Indians led by Captain cool Dhoni couldn’t believe that this was actually happening to them. The plan from South Africa was clear, Philander would go for the runs and take the risks whereas Faf would play the waiting game make sure that South Africa would not loose. In a spur of moment, Faf went for a risky single and once again the throw of Rahane found the runner short of the crease. South Africa needed 16 more to win with 3 overs and 3 wickets left. Will South Africa go for the win now or be happy with the draw or would there be a late twist and a possible Indian victory.  In an Anti climactic manner dale Steyn and Philander played the rest of the overs without any risk with Philander even refusing the singles. South Africa ultimately fell short of the target by 8 runs of what would have been a world record chase and a 1-0 up in the series. Instead it will now be the winner takes all game at Durban on the Boxing Day.

– Asvin Lakkaraju [Asvin plays for the Swiss National Team . Join him on twitter here.]

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9 thoughts on “Indians Tame The South Africans In The Bull Ring

  1. What was supposed to be a hard fought win or a comfortable draw for us turned out to be a fortunate draw in the end. Relief is the only word that comes to mind.

    Not withstanding the superb partnership between Faf & ABD, one had every reason to be disappointed as an Indian supporter. To say we had the test match in our bag by end of our 2nd innings wud be an understatement.

    Our bowling simply lacks the X Factor/ Killer instinct to finish off things. Except for the occasional Shami spell, we weren’t threatening enough. And also becoz we weren’t bowling consistently well , there was always a boundary ball nearly every over which the Saffas were too happy to receive and ease their pressure. Building pressure by stifling things is a great way of getting wickets.

    In the end, Indians go to Durban with the moral victory, but it is SA who go in with the momentum.

    Let’s hope things are different.

  2. ” To say we had the test match in our bag by end of our 2nd innings wud be an understatement.”

    Definitely true Red Claw, but Jo’burg pitch always eases out…. remember last tour where Sachin made his 50th test hundred and MSD made 91 and we made 400+ in the 3rd innings? I never gave India more than 50% chance of winning even after India’s 2nd innings.

    Moral victory/momentum is good for analysis, but durban will start with both sides @ 0/0. Winner takes all…. India better turn up and fight like they did here. Gonna be fun!

  3. This is probably most enthralling drawn test in a while. The next text is aptly placed on Boxing Day, because this test match was like two boxers in the ring, going into the last round wounded with no clear winner.

  4. The real man of the match rom and indian point of view is probably Ajinkya Rahane. If not for him Faf would have won the game!!!

  5. Sai:

    That’s a great analogy. In some sense SA have taken a few blows and will come hard at India. India should keep up their good work.

    Square Cut:

    Nice moniker 🙂 Rahane’s run outs saved us, and ashwin/rohit’s drops might have caught us the match. we cannot afford to drop catches!

  6. Looking at the table above, India are the only side to feature twice in the top 5 run chases. I think India have always been good chasers in test matches!

  7. @Djokerfan, there is one more score of 438 which India chased and fell short by just 9 runs. Of which 221 runs came from a single man. Coincidentally he is the centurion even in the successful chase of 406 runs also. By now, I am sure, you are aware, who I am talking about. All these, in the days when there was no limit on bouncers per over restriction even in Test cricket. If not for him, Indian cricket would not have been, what it is today.

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