New Delhi: Purists believe that the art of grafting and defensive batting is a special gift in Test cricket. On Sunday, South Africa displayed plenty of it as they threatened to take the fourth and final Test into a draw after India set them a daunting 481-run target here on Sunday.
South Africa knew there was nothing left in the series for them having lost matches in Mohali and Nagpur, but the feeling of going back with some confidence seemed to propel them to fight. It was pure grit, resolute batting and a lot of application as the visitors battled it out in the day’s final two sessions to take the game to Day Five. At stumps, South Africa were 72/2 in their second innings that came off a staggering 72 overs, still 409 runs in deficit.
In the morning, India declared their second innings at 267/5 following Ajinkya Rahane’s twin hundred in this Test. History suggests that South Africa are masters in fighting back and pushing for draws from hopeless situations – the famous game against Australia in Adelaide 2012 where they eked out a dramatic draw and Faf du Plessis’ marathon seven hour and 46 minute knock against India at the Wanderers in 2013 being a few examples. And even though this series had done nothing so far to suggest the same, it was a different South Africa that one witnessed on the day.
The epic manner of blocking everything that came their way and resisting the temptation to score was praiseworthy. It was Test cricket in its purest form, and tactics that took India by surprise, who at stage looked good to finish off things within three days.
Skipper Hashim Amla led the way – he took 46 deliveries to get off the mark – and the rest followed him to the cue. The South Africa skipper (23 batting, 207 balls) now has the lowest strike rate for any batsman who has faced at least 200 balls in a Test innings, but it was a day they would be very proud of themselves. It was the time spent in the middle, and not runs, that mattered on the day.
Opener Temba Bavuma (34, 117 balls) was exemplary in giving company to his skipper and their second-wicket stand of 44 runs off 154 deliveries left India skipper Virat Kohli searching for answers. R. Ashwin (2/29) was the only one among wickets as the home batsmen bowled 43 maidens on the day.
AB. de Villiers walked in when the Proteas were 49/2 in 42.4 overs, and showed just what makes him the most complete batsmen of modern times. De Villiers’ 31-ball 100 in one-dayers had mesmerized the world, and on Sunday it was his ability to block and grind in the team’s cause that stood out.
Amla’s defence was foolproof. He left all good length deliveries and even resisted those that had runs to offer. He offered his front foot to everything that kept low playing a chanceless knock.
The pair’s only concern was staying at the crease as de Villiers (11 off 91 balls) too resisted going for the shots. Their unbroken third-wicket stand of 23 came in 29.2 overs.
The day’s opening session belonged to Rahane, who became only the fifth Indian batsman to score two hundreds in a Test. He joined the elite list of Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar, Rahul Dravid and Virat Kohli. Kohli on 88 but Rahane played a swift knock reaching his hundred in 206 deliveries.
India (I innings): 334
South Africa (I innings): 121
India (II innings, O/n 190/4): V Kohli lbw b Abbott 88, Ajinkya Rahane (not out) 100, Wriddhiman Saha (not out) 23
Extras (lb2, nb2) 4
Total (for 5 wickets decl. in 100.1 overs) 267
Bowling: Morkel 21-6-51-3, Abbott 22-9-47-1, Piedt 18-1-53-0, Imran Tahir 26.1-4-74-1, Elgar 13-1-40-0
South Africa (II innings, Target: 481): Dean Elgar c Rahane b Ashwin 4, Temba Bavuma b Ashwin 34, Hashim Amla (batting) 23, AB de Villiers (batting) 11
Total (for 2 wickets in 72 overs) 72
FoW: 1-5, 2-49
Bowling: Ishant 12-7-16-0, R Ashwin 23-13-29-2, Jadeja 23-16-10-0, Yadav 9-6-6-0, Dhawan 3-1-9-0, Vijay 2-0-2-0.
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