Smith: Decision in best interest of the team

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Captain Graeme Smith defended South Africa's decision to force a draw, rather than chase victory, on the fifth and final day of the first Test match against India at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Captain Graeme Smith defended South Africa's decision to force a draw, rather than chase victory, on the fifth and final day of the first Test match against India at the Wanderers in Johannesburg on Sunday.

Chasing a mammoth 458-run target, the Proteas moved to a promising position on the back of fighting centuries from vice-captain AB de Villiers and batsman Faf du Plessis.

De Villiers and du Plessis' departures in reasonably quick succession, however, saw all-rounder Vernon Philander and tail-ender Dale Steyn assume a largely defensive approach.

The hosts ended on 450 for seven, a mere eight runs shy of achieving the highest successful fourth-innings run chase in the history of Test match cricket.

"The guys played extremely well. We found a way to stay in the game, and I am extremely happy with that. We did not just fade away. The guys fought so hard, and in the end it came close," said Smith.

"The knocks Faf and AB put in were some of the greatest knocks you will see in Test match cricket. They played beautifully until Faf got run out. Dale and Vernon then made the decision in the best interest of the team.

"Chasing down that total would have been great, it would have provided closure to this great contest. But in the end it was a draw, and that's that. We had to stay levelheaded and top of the game no matter what.

"You have to produce good performances time and time again, that best fit the game. We did that and got the outcome. We worked out what kind of cricket was needed – for a draw, a win – and we made sure we did not lose. This was high-class Test match cricket.

"We, as a team support, the decision Dale/Vernon made. That is how we got to number one in the rankings, by trusting each other. They had my 100 percent support."

Smith lauded du Plessis in particular, after a rearguard 134 that featured 15 boundaries – and spanned all of 309 deliveries and 395 minutes. The talented Vernon Philander, meanwhile, added an unbeaten 25 to an impressive 59 scored in the first innings.

"The track was tough to bat on – and very difficult to score on during the first 30 minutes of a partnership. Credit to the groundsman for a good Test match wicket – and Faf was terrific in these conditions," added Smith.

"He answered his critics well amid a lot of pressure. He fits in well, and producing a performance like that was outstanding from Faf. He was terrific. Vernon is pushing for the all-rounder category. It was an important half-ton and he was great with the ball as usual."

The home side, meanwhile, are waiting on the fitness of fast bowler Morne Morkel. The lanky right-armer twisted an ankle while fielding – and did not bowl for the bulk of the second innings. He remains in doubt for the second and final Test, which will get underway at Kingsmead on Thursday. The Durban-based Kyle Abbott has been called up as cover.

"The diagnosis Brendon Jackson, the physiotherapist, has given is that he is 20 percent ready for Durban, which Morne believes is 80 percent. At the best of times, he struggles to control those legs. We missed him in our second innings. Let us hold thumbs, but I don't think the prognosis is great," concluded Smith.

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