De Villiers, du Plessis ensure draw at Wanderers

India

Just when Johannesburg residents thought they had seen it all, the Proteas rocked up and showed nerves of steel at the Wanderers, where South Africa posted the third highest second-innings total in this history of the game.

Just when Johannesburg residents thought they had seen it all, the Proteas rocked up and showed nerves of steel at the Wanderers, where South Africa posted the third highest second-innings total in this history of the game.

The series-opening Test between the two top-ranked nations in world cricket ended with South Africa coming up eight runs short of the 558 India asked them to get thanks to their magnificent second innings total of 421.

At the close of play on day five the Proteas were 450 for seven and although they came within inches of what would have been the most incredible run chase of all time, they would still view the draw as a victory very few teams would have achieved under the circumstances.

While most days started with overhead conditions providing great assistance to the seamers, batsmen were in control in the latter sessions as it took the better part of four days for India to gain the ascendency they enjoyed in the end.

Winning the toss and deciding to bat was considered a risky decision by India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni in light of the reputation of the Proteas attack, but it would be the best call he made all match.

Dhoni, however, could not have predicted that Dale Steyn would only take one wicket in the 56 overs he bowled while, in the context of this match, Graeme Smith and Faf du Plessis' run-outs were acts of irresponsibility that hardly reflected the stature of the team.

South African blunders aside, telling knocks by Virat Kohli in both innings and a splendid batting display by Cheteshwar Pujara, who piled on 153 in the second, is what separated the sides at the end.

Heading into the match India's batsmen were made to believe that they would not be able to deal with the sheer pace of the wickets, and on that front they succeeded with flying colours.

Kohli and Pujara's 222-run partnership on day four was almost matched by du Plessis and AB de Villiers, who ensured the home side were in a position to chose their fate as the match drew to an anticlimactic close.

Du Plessis and de Villiers showed great resilience with record 205-run fifth-wicket stand that, when in comparison to Kohli and Pujara, should perhaps have gone the 17-run difference.

All of this happened on a day India were expecting to have their feet up before tea as a last innings on a Wanderers pitch was never going to be a walk in the park. Still, the final showdown proved to be one for the annuals.

And although the Bullring wasn't anywhere near capacity as was the case during <i>that</i> historical '438 game' against Australia, this scribe will have you know that the sound effects were very similar as the home side approached the unthinkable target.

Every run was cheered and in true Jo'burg culture, those cheers eventually turned into boos as there wasn't a fingernail left in the house as the match drew to a close.

Du Plessis' knock was of impeccable quality and one should also factor in the relevance of his first-innings contribution, even though he only made 20 runs off 141 balls on that occasion.

When he walked out then, the Proteas had just collapsed from a commanding start and were in more than a spot of bother at 145 for five – and pressure mounted even further when de Villiers departed one run later.

Du Plessis anchored the innings while Vernon Philander made it his mission to blast the Indian bowlers to all corners of the park. The two would combine again on the final day, although the result wasn't quite the same.

Credit has to go to Mohammed Shami, who took three second-innings sticks that ensured his side did not suffer what would have been a humiliating loss from a position of power.

<i>Michael Mentz at the Wanderers</i>

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