In the end, there were no upsets. Neither team lost. The first Test, the dying moments of which can only be described as nerve-jangling, ended with South Africa staring at the finish line. But they chose not to cross it. India didn’t mind that. And they will go into the series decider in Durban with a sense of one-upmanship.
Talk of historic contests and the one played out at the Wanderers will probably top the charts. Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, both batsmen who seldom treated the 458-run target like an insurmountable mountain, took the Proteas within inches of the summit. But they tripped, only for their mates to call off the mission. Their 205-run stand, the highest-ever in the fourth innings of a Test, came off 62.3 overs. South Africa finished with 450/7, just a couple of fours away from scripting the most memorable and record-breaking win in the game’s 136-year history.
With 56 required off 12.5 overs, de Villiers fell to Ishant Sharma, the ball dragging onto the stumps. Mind you, South Africa had begun the day with 320 runs to get with eight wickets intact.
They came this close, and got even closer (16 off three overs), but failed to push for the win. Was it because an unfit Morne Morkel was padded up next? Perhaps. And when Dale Steyn hit Mohammed Shami for a six off the last ball of the match, the raucous crowd booed him as if he were a traitor. It was as though their team had lost. In some ways, they had.
The partnership between du Plessis and de Villiers was one for the ages. Matching each other stroke for stroke, they got to their hundreds within 20 minutes of each other. While the former digged in, the latter attacked.
JP Duminy, who walked in at the fall of de Villiers, got off the mark with a straight drive off Mohammad Shami. But soon, the left-hander fell to the same bowler, again playing on. South Africa were still in the hunt. And that’s because du Plessis was there. Last year, he had saved a Test match in Adelaide. It was his debut. This time, he was looking to win it. But a superb throw from Ajinkya Rahane, stationed at mid-off, did him in. The Proteas were now looking to save the game, not win it.
Vernon Philander, who went on the offensive in the presence of du Plessis, mellowed down when Dale Steyn joined him. That the Indians, especially Zaheer Khan, were giving nothing away, contributed to this. Shami, who bowled the 87th over of the day, couldn’t have come up with a better maiden. With two overs to go and 16 needed, Khan did just what Dhoni wanted. It was his first maiden of the innings and it came after 34 overs. When Shami began the final over of the greatest run chase ever, all four results were possible. But God was kind. Neither team lost.
Earlier, Khan had dismissed Jacques Kallis in controversial fashion –– a huge inside-edge –– to pick up his 300th Test wicket. He became only the fourth Indian to do so after Kapil Dev, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. India had also got Alviro Petersen out early. But du Plessis and de Villiers kept India waiting. From a winning position, India found themselves in the jaws of defeat, only to pull off a deserving draw.
Zaheer enters 300 club
Zaheer Khan on Sunday became the fourth Indian bowler to claim 300 wickets in Tests when he got Jacques Kallis LBW in the 61st over of the South African second innings at the Wanderers.
The left-arm pacer joined Anil Kumble (619), Kapil Dev (434), and Harbhajan Singh (413) in the elite list. He is the 27th overall in all-time highest wicket-takers’ list. He also becomes the most successful left-arm fast bowler after Pakistan’s Wasim Akram (414) and Sri Lanka’s Chaminda Vaas (355).