With the advent of T20, many of us had given up on Test cricket. Matches like the recently concluded India South Africa test however, help to restore our fate in the ultimate form of the game.
The inexperienced Indian side was supposed to crumble to pieces in South Africa and with the drubbing they received in the ODI series, little was expected of the test side. But they had other ideas. Carrying the burden of consecutive 4-0 overseas defeats, these youngsters came into their own at the Wanderers.
India won the toss and decided to bat first on a seaming Wanderers track. Kohli lead the way with a well constructed 119 and a good contribution from Rahane down the order made sure India managed a respectable total of 280. Vernon Philander cleaned up India’s tail and the mess created by South Africa’s top order. His knock of 59 ensured that South Africa remained in contention.
The wily old horse Zaheer proved his worth by chipping in with four wickets. Ishant Sharma found himself on the brink of a rare hattrick after running through the defences of Amla and Kallis of consecutive balls. He claimed a 4-fer too. The Indian pacers surprisingly seemed to extract more of the pitch than their South African counter parts. A small victory in itself.
South Africa succumbed to 244 in their first innings and India were more than happy to have a first innings lead of 36. Then came the Pujara-Kohli stand. It was not just a game changing partnership, it was more. The Indian batsmen had received a lot of slack for not applying themselves in foreign conditions. Well, these two did that with some conviction. They showed us how the young breed of India was ready to take on the mantle from the greats that preceded them. Pujara chalked up 150 while Kohli missed out on a feat that had eluded even the great Sachin Tendulkar, a twin hundred. He was dismissed for 96.
India posted a daunting target of 458 for the South Africans. And with just 135 overs to get it in, most of us brushed aside the idea of a South African victory. However, a lot of cricket was left to be played and South Africa took it session by session.
Alviro Peterson led the charge for the home side. Scoring runs freely, he and Smith put up 108 for the opening stand with a healthy run rate of 3.50. A stroke of brilliance from Rahane in the field led to Smiths downfall, and a horrendous bounce did Amla in. South Africa ended Day 4 at 138/2 with India still in the driver’s seat.
The day that could change Indias fortune was upon us. With just 8 wickets to take and a full days play in front of them, the Indian side looked all geared up. Shami provided India with the breakthrough after Alviro Peterson chopped the ball on to his stumps.
Kallis walked in and greeted all of us with some elegant cover drives. Faf Du Plesis on the other hand was determined to make the Indian bowlers work hard for his wicket. Kallis was adjudged LBW by the umpire and with that Zaheer claimed his 300th scalp in Test cricket. However, replays showed that Kallis got a big inside edge. A shocker by Rod Tucker , who until then had had a very good test match. South Africa were 197-4 at that stage.
Then came the De Villiers- Du Plesis stand. They looked like men on a mission. While De Villiers took the attack to the Indian bowlers, Du Plesis seemed to be content playing the defensive role. South Africa looked on course for a record breaking chase.
Dhoni’s Midas touch seemed to have eluded him. Nothing was going right for India. Ishant Sharma was given the ball and against the run of play he got the big fish, De Villers. Another twist in this fairy tale test. Duminy was knocked over by Shami a couple of overs later and India could sense a chance through the back door.
Du Plesis and Philander steadied the ship for the home side and surprisingly now an Indian loss seemed imminent. Then the nerves jangled. Du Plesis took off for a suicidal run and Rahane hit the timber when it mattered. And the tide turned again. India sniffed victory, again. Philander had other ideas though. He along with Steyn stuck it out and played for the draw, much to the anger of the crowd.
With 16 required of the last over, the game was done and dusted. India and South Africa had played one of the greatest matches the game would ever see. It would have been unfair to see any team lose this enthralling test match. It had all the right ingredients and in the right mix too.
The test match brought a wind of change with it. The Indian batsmen and bowlers found their feat in overseas conditions, Steyn ended up wicketless in the second innings and the Wanderers pitch held up for five days.
But a few things just don’t change. De Villiers and Kohli continued to show us why they are regarded as the best batsmen of their generation, Ravi Shastri bored us with his clichés , Indias slip catching led them down and South Africa choked at the brink of victory.
The second test promises to be a cracker. Too bad the series is limited to just two test matches. South Africa have a major selection concern though, with some youngster having to fill Morkel’s big boots. The Indians on the other hand have to carry this form and hunger to Durban as well.
Batting is India’s mainstay and has been for a long time now. We have been known to produce heaps of batting talent. So when the batting collapses, India normally go down. The batsmen need to realise this. If we need to salvage a draw or a victory at Durban, the batting has to fire again. If that happens, an overseas test series victory could become a reality.
The Boxing day bout promises to be another cracker.
Published first on Sportskeeda