South Africans will probably feel cheated, but winning series is more important than winning matches – or even making history. It may seem irrational, but such is the outstanding intrigue of Test match cricket, writes Nick Sadleir.
After missing very few South Africa matches at this ground since readmission, it still haunts me that I wasn't at the Wanderers for the 438 game. Of course I remember where I was, I mean who doesn't, but I wasn't actually here.
However I was in the Bullring for what was so nearly the '458 game'. South Africa drew a match that they should have won and lost several times over as the game ended with the home side on 450 for seven, chasing 458 in what was certainly one of the best Test matches in the game's 2108-match history.
Only 8,000 or so people were tempted by the bargain ticket price to make it through the Corlett Drive turnstiles on Sunday – and witness the event. But despite the stadium being only 30 percent full, the atmosphere was one that those who were there will never forget, as the crowd roared behind the Proteas and helped the incredible Faf du Plessis and company toward the finish line. And while the crowd can only feel they got their money's worth, they might well feel that South Africa's negativity at the very end of the match robbed them from watching history being made.
The crowd's cheers turned to boos as Dale Steyn and then Vernon Philander didn't attempt a scoring shot for two full overs, when just 16 runs were required, with three wickets in hand. The first rule of Test match cricket is to make sure you don't lose before you consider winning and the soldiers in the middle were only following marching orders after du Plessis was tragically run out for 134.
Steyn probably didn't deserve to be given the 'Jacob Zuma boo' but with such history so tantalisingly close, the crowd only echoed the rest of the country's sentiment that it would be worth risking losing to have a crack at winning, especially after it had seemed in the bag… several times.
Test cricket is or was a gentlemanly game and not many years ago the captains might well have shaken hands with an hour left in the day. CSA might have groveled to the mighty BCCI when it came to ensuring that this curtailed tour took place, but there is no doubt that they would have wanted to beat them fair and square on the field in the first Test. With only an injured Morkel and an untrustworthy Tahir left in the hut, three overs was seen as too many to gamble with.
Had it been a longer Test series, then perhaps the Proteas would have gone for the win but due to India's ridiculous rescheduling of this tour there is only one Test left to play and Smith and company will fancy their chances of winning it. We may feel cheated but winning series is more important than winning matches or even making history. It may seem irrational but that's just the way Test match cricket goes.
Despite the anticlimax of the final overs, it is hard to remember a more enthralling Test match. On many occasions each of the three potential results seemed certain and at other times impossible. Perhaps a draw was the fairest outcome after all. It is Johannesburg's rainiest month of the year and yet we did not lose an over to wet weather. This was a draw where one side scored 701 for 20 wickets and the other 694 for 17 wickets when time was up. It was an epic.
On the first morning the commentators debated whether it was unfair to present India with a pitch so lively that they could hardly lay bat on ball – and then on day five it looked as flat as an ice rink. On day two, 10 wickets fell for 32 runs. On day five, only seven wickets fell in 90 overs. It was the most unpredictable magnificent match of 2013. Morkel's injury was probably the difference.
South Africa are likely to drop Tahir for Durban's Boxing Day Test as there are only three days off before that clash. They will likely need a replacement for Morkel too. You can bet your bottom dollar that the Kingsmead surface will be getting a nice watering on Monday. South Africa have a very poor record in recent years in Durban. India lack fast bowling. It is criminal that there aren't more than two Tests but these things are out of our hands. Bring it on.
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