Indian cricketers don’t need anyone to tell them about the inherent strength of South African cricket. That the South African have been defeated on just three occasions in the last four years; is an ample testimony to their fighting potential against the heaviest of odds. At the end of the fourth day of the Johannesburg test, South Africa showed stubborn resistance in the fourth innings. It was evident that the batsmen had no desire to give up, even if the target of 458 in the fourth innings looked pretty stiff. The undaunted South Africans went into the final day with the score reading 138/2. From a position of strength, the Indians were pushed on the back foot as the South Africans took the challenge head on. But for a few more runs in the closing stages, they would have created test history.
In large measure, however, the proceedings on the fourth day belonged to India as they held the upper hand by setting a big fourth innings target. As the match resumed on the fourth morning, India began losing wickets regularly but since they were already in a strong position, it did not matter as long as the score could be pushed up as much as possible. Halfway in the second session, India looked like holding all victory cards and when they also squeezed two South African wickets by the close of play on fourth day, their dominant position was further consolidated. First a direct throw from Ajinkya Rahane claimed Graeme Smith and then Mohammad Shami produced an awfully short-pitched delivery to which Hashim Amla was forced to duck. The ball kept dangerously low and hit the top of Amla’s off stump. Hashim Amla’s wicket thus was a gift to India. In the first innings too, Amla was clean bowled in nearly the same fashion, when he had shouldered arms to a rising delivery from Ishant Sharma.
The complexion of the game changed completely on the fifth day. From a position of strength, India became the defending side as South African batsman displayed great batting skills. Their batting line-up is full of players, whose second-innings performances have been legendary. The first wicket stand had already yielded 108 runs and even after Alvino Peterson was clean bowled by Shami, early on the fifth morning, the great chase continued. Kallis came next to join Faf du Plessis. The veteran looked solid, while he batted in the company of du Plessis. Indians missed a chance, when Kallis popped up a short ball from Mohammad Shami but Pujara floored it at short-leg. When Kallis and Plessis had added an invaluable 59 runs in pretty quick time for the fourth wicket, Kallis was out to a controversial LBW decision. Kallis’s dismissal was also Zaheer Khan’s 300th Test wicket. From this point onwards, South Africa scared the clueless Indian bowlers. Solid as usual, Faf du Plessis carried on in the company of the ever dependable AB de Villiers. This was the same combination, which had denied a certain victory to Australia at Adelaide last year. In the annals of test cricket, Plessis and de Villiers efforts are still known as the great Adelaide Escape. The pair is also well known for their highest run-chase of 438 runs in the history of One-Day-Internationals.
On the fifth day, Plessis and de Villiers were not defending but trying to turn the tables on India. With 127 runs required in 30 overs, a historical win was certainly on cards. Ever the weak point of Indian cricket, the bowling failed to make any impression on Plessis and de Villiers, though, later in the afternoon, cracks on the pitch made batting a bit difficult. Regardless, Plessis and de Villiers looked determined and with six wickets still remaining, South Africans looked like achieving the impossible. The fifth wicket stand was built on patience, and of course a bit of luck, as the odd edges were allowed to go abegging by Indian fielders. The 205 run fifth-wicket partnership brought South Africa within 56 runs of victory. But once Plessis and de Villiers were dismissed, the game swung once again. With South Africa still needing 16 runs, Indian bowlers had only Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn to deal with. The two batsmen looked for safety first as the last few minutes of the test match still left South Africa 8 runs away from victory.
The first test, thus, ended as one of test cricket’s greatest drawn games with some of its own typical stories. Man-of-the-match, Virat Kohli, nearly scored centuries in each innings, Zaheer Khan claimed his 300th test wicket, Plessis and de Villiers made herculean efforts to force a historical win, the redoubtable Amla had bizarre dismissals in both innings and wicketkeepers on both sides chanced their arms to bowl a few overs.