India and South Africa played out a pulsating draw in the first Test at Johannesburg, with the hosts finishing at 450 for seven on the fifth day, whilst chasing a world-record 458 for victory. Faf du Plessis (134 runs, 309 balls, 15 fours) led the way with his third Test ton and put up 205 runs for the fifth-wicket with AB de Villiers (103 runs, 168 balls, 12 fours) to deny India their second victory in four Tests at the Wanderers stadium.
In doing so, South Africa scored the second highest total in the fourth innings for a drawn Test match. They beat India’s 429 for eight, scored at The Oval against England in 1979.
For India, Mohammad Shami was the pick of the bowlers with figures of three for 107 from 28 overs. After dismissing Jacques Kallis for his 300th wicket in 89 Tests, Zaheer Khan (1-135) proved expensive on this final day of the match, even as Ishant Sharma (1-91) toiled hard. R Ashwin (0-83), the lone spinner, didn’t provide any breakthroughs as the fifth day pitch evened out for batting. Virat Kohli (0-18), Murali Vijay (0-3) and skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni (0-4) also sent down a few overs in this Proteas’ second innings.
South Africa started the last session of the day needing another 127 runs for a historic win. Du Plessis (88 not out) and de Villiers (72 not out) furthered their partnership for the fifth-wicket. Dhoni gave a bowl to Kohli, interchanging the ends for Zaheer and Ishant who he deployed first up. It was a surprise since Mohammad Shami hadn’t bowled since the 88th over of the innings, whilst Zaheer had bled runs since the new ball had been taken in the 80th over.
The 150-run partnership came in the 111th over then, along with the 350-run mark. Two overs later, du Plessis celebrated his third Test hundred, coming off 252 balls. He hit 12 fours and held one end together as the Proteas’ batting revolved around him on this crucial fifth day.
When his pairing with de Villiers breached the 178-run mark, it became the highest fifth-wicket partnership in the fourth innings of a Test match. The previous best was 177 by B Congdon and V Pollard for New Zealand against England at Trent Bridge in 1973.
61 runs had come in the first after tea and only 66 more runs were needed in the final hour spanning 15 overs. De Villiers completed his 18th Test hundred in the 121st over, coming off 162 balls with 12 fours. In the next over, the 200-run partnership came up. The 400-run mark was up too, with 58 runs to win.
Finally Shami was back in the 123rd over, after an inexplicable gap of 34 overs. It showed immediately as he made the batsmen skip with awkward bounce on incoming deliveries. Maybe it helped as de Villiers was bowled in the next over by Ishant, bringing an end to his 205-run partnership with du Plessis. He scored 103 runs off 168 balls. At the other end, Shami bowled JP Duminy (5).
It was left to du Plessis to see this through and he nearly did, in the company of Vernon Philander (25 not out, 37 balls, three fours). Their 80-run partnership had defied India in the first innings as well, and this time they put on 35 runs for the seventh-wicket, taking South Africa closer. But at the sight of victory, in the 133rd over, du Plessis was run out via a direct hit from mid-off by Ajinkya Rahane.
With 16 needed off 19 balls, Dale Steyn (six runs, 10 balls, one six) came out to bat. But Zaheer and Shami bowled fierce spells to keep the run-scoring in check. Philander also shut up, as did Steyn, although he did hit a six off the last ball of the match as South Africa finished only eight runs short of the target.
Earlier, the Proteas scored 95 runs in the second session without losing a wicket, setting a great platform to chase down this target. Starting at 236 for 4, India deployed the new ball straightaway in the 80th over.
Zaheer and Mohammad Shami were into the attack, and they toiled hard. If ‘leaving the ball well’ described the Indian batsmen in their two innings in this match, then ‘playing with soft hands’ is an apt phrase to describe the South African batsmen. They went soft at the hard, new ball with many a streaky edges flowing past the two-slip cordon and towards the boundary. Even when there was awkward bounce, the slips never came into play, as the pacers started bleedings runs.
Du Plessis’ fifty came in the 82nd over, wherein he was also hit on his right thumb, but soldiered on nevertheless. De Villiers celebrated his half-century in the 88th over. 46 runs came in the first hour of play after lunch and both batsmen kept scoring boundaries at regular intervals, with the 100 partnership coming up in the 95th over.
In the morning session, South Africa began the day at their overnight score of 138 for two, with Alviro Petersen (76 not out) and du Plessis (10 not out) on strike. Peterson was bowled in the 50th over, fifth of the day, as an incoming delivery from Shami kept low and he got an inside edge onto his stumps. He was out for 76, without adding a run to his overnight score. In all, he faced 162 balls and hitting nine fours.
Shami was bowling a fiery five-over spell in this first hour, which yielded 56 runs, and there was further proof when he had a loud appeal against Kallis turned down first ball. Kallis scored 31 runs off just 29 balls, hitting six fours, bringing a quick-fire 50-partnership with du Plessis. He seemed to be in a hurry chasing down a huge score and looked set, when umpire Rod Tucker wrongly adjudged him LBW off Zaheer in the 61st over. He was out for 34 runs off 37 balls, as a huge inside edge rocked his front pads.
But the umpire’s finger went up and he became Zaheer’s 300th Test victim in his 89th Test. The left-arm veteran speedster is the fourth highest wicket-taker for India in Test cricket, after Anil Kumble (619 wickets in 132 Tests), Kapil Dev (434 wickets in 131 Tests) and Harbhajan Singh (413 wickets in 101 Tests).
The 200 came up for South Afrixa in the 61st over, as AB de Villiers and du Plessis avoided further damage. Spin was introduced in the 65th over, with Ashwin coming to bowl, while Kohli was introduced into the attack with 15 minutes to go for lunch.
On day one, Virat Kohli’s fifth Test hundred, 119 off 181 balls, had powered India to 280 in the first innings. On day two, South African skipper Graeme Smith scored 68 before a batting collapse reduced them to 213 for six. On day three, India took a 36-run lead after bowling out the Proteas for 244 runs in their first innings, after which Cheteshwar Pujara’s hundred ground their bowling down. On day four, a 222-run partnership between Pujara and Kohli saw India reach 421 in their second innings, setting a target of 458. South Africa scored 138 out of those, leaving 320 runs for the final day.
© Cricket World 2013