The First Test between South Africa and India at the Wanderers has ended in controversial circumstances as tail enders Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander played out a draw with only eight runs required for victory.
SOUTH Africa skipper Graeme Smith defended the controversial decision to abandon his team’s epic pursuit of a world record score and settle for a tense first Test draw against India.
South Africa needed just 16 runs off the final three overs with three wickets remaining as they chased down 458 to win the opening match at the Wanderers.
But when top-scorer Faf du Plessis was run out off the fifth ball of the 133rd over, having hit a majestic 134, the batsmen in the middle – Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn – opted to bat out for the draw.
The next two overs were maidens and even though eight came off the last over, including a six by Steyn off the final ball, it was too little, too late.
“Ultimately the guys out in the middle made the decision that they thought was in the best interests of the team,” said Smith of a decision greeted by boos from the home crowd.
Smith said it was the best option with only the injured Morne Morkel and number 11 Imran Tahir left to bat.
“With Morne struggling to stand and with no ability to run between the wickets and with Imran you’re not too sure what you are going to get. We as a team have to support the decision that Dale and Vernon made in the middle,” said Smith after his side reached 450 for seven at the close.
“With two overs to go, and one Test match to go with an opportunity to win the series in Durban, we have to be 100 percent committed to the decision.
“The strength of this team is that there are good decision-makers.
“Each guy is mature, have made good decisions over the last period of time and have won cricket games for South Africa. That is how we got to No.1 in the world, by trusting each other and trusting our decision-making. Dale and Vernon had my support 100 percent.”
To put the Proteas’ effort in perspective, the current record for a successful chase is 418 runs, set by the West Indies against Australia in 2003.
South Africa entered the final day of the Test merely hoping to survive, as it resumed its second innings at 2/138. And India was on track to win the game after taking the key wickets of Alviro Petersen and Jacques Kallis early in the day.
But the Proteas fought back and managed to reach a score of 4/331 at tea, needing 127 more runs in 30 overs to win the Test in the final session.
Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers were the unbeaten batsmen at the break, with scores of 88 and 72 not out respectively. Thirteen months ago, the same pair batted South Africa to an unlikely draw against Australia in Adelaide.
Du Plessis and de Villiers continued their fine work after tea, with both men bringing up centuries. South Africa needed just 66 more runs to win entering the final hour of play, but the result was thrown into doubt when de Villiers chopped a ball from Ishant Sharma back onto his stumps and departed for 103.
His replacement, JP Duminy, also chopped on an over later. That brought big-hitting fast bowler Vernon Philander to the crease, with the home crowd’s nerves well and truly shot.
Victory was still in sight. Philander kept the scoreboard ticking over while du Plessis held the innings together at the other end, and with five overs left, they needed another 28. History was tantalisingly close.
“When those wickets fell I decided I had to be there until the last four overs and then possibly have a go,” said Du Plessis.
With 20 needed off four overs, Du Plessis pulled Zaheer Khan for four but was then run out by a direct hit from Ajinkya Rahane at mid-off as he attempted to retain the strike.
Du Plessis, who saved a Test with a century against Australia in similar circumstances on his debut in Adelaide last year, batted for 395 minutes, faced 309 balls and hit 15 fours.
“I thought about Adelaide quite a lot,” he said. “Before that innings I didn’t know that I could bat for four or five sessions. But the conditions here were tougher. The wicket was doing quite a lot more.”
With 16 runs to go and du Plessis out, the game was up. Desperate to avoid losing, South Africa’s batsmen put away their shots and played out the remaining overs.
There were some boos from spectators when it became obvious that the chase had been abandoned, which Smith said he could understand given the emotion of the occasion.
He said Philander and Steyn had made the decision after some short and wide bowling made scoring difficult in the two overs leading up to the final over.
“They were in the middle and I back their decision,” he said.
They finished with a score of 7/450, falling just eight runs short of the history books.
The current world record has stood for 10 long years. Despite the best efforts of the world’s top-ranked Test side this morning, it will stand for a while longer.