However, only after closer inspection will the records indicate that India required just on five sessions to ultimately break South Africa’s dogged resistance.
The Proteas may only have scored 143 in their second innings, but they forced the Indian bowlers to deliver 143.1 overs. In modern-day Test cricket, such intense discipline and technique displayed by batsmen reared on a fast-food diet of limited-overs and Twenty20 cricket is almost unimaginable.
It is even more remarkable considering that the architect of “360 degrees” batting, AB de Villiers, with all his inventive strokeplay, was the cornerstone of South Africa’s “blockathon”.
De Villiers faced 297 balls – that’s three balls shy of an entire innings in one-day international cricket – for his 43, which gave him a strike-rate of 14.47!
Likewise his captain Hashim Amla, a batsman who has often occupied the No 1 spot on the ICC World ODI rankings, soaked up 244 balls for his 25. That’s an even slower strike-rate of 10.24! In the context of this Test and the match situation, these innings were worth their weight in gold.
But the question that begs to be asked is whether such stonewalling tactics are good for the longevity of Test cricket? Nobody is suggesting that South Africa could have chased down the victory target of 481 set by India’s captain Virat Kohli, but does the way the Proteas approached their fourth innings do anything to promote the longest version of the game?
Former Australian Test batsman Dean Jones certainly voiced his concerns on social media networks, while there are others like Australian coach Darren Lehmann and his Indian counterpart Ravi Shastri, who have recently pledged their support for possible four-day Tests in future.
My retort to this is that the value of South Africa’s fighting spirit that was on display on Monday epitomises what Test cricket has always been about... a dog-fight until the very end.
No excuses can be made for the Proteas’ first innings blow-up, which placed the visitors in this position. There were no demons in this Delhi pitch and if even half the amount of application of the second innings effort was showed in the first innings, the Proteas might not have been in this parlous state.
But for a team that has been on tour in India for 72 days, and with the series and their enviable away record already having been lost, there would have been nothing easier than to collapse like a house of cards in their final innings.
Australia have done it countless times on trips to India and the UAE. England do it regularly too, blaming the “one-foot-on-the-plane syndrome”.
But not South Africa. Much has been made about the resolve the team may have lost now that “fourth-innings warrior” and former skipper Graeme Smith has retired, given that he was the backbone of the Proteas’ rearguard actions over the years.
While Smith made an immeasurable contribution to Proteas cricket during his decade-long reign, his greatest gift was passing on this relentless commitment to his successor Amla.
The objective may not have been achieved in Delhi, but we now know that the new Proteas troops follow Amla with the same devotion as those that “Biff” led.
This character trait will become increasingly important once England arrive here within the next week. They will believe that South Africa are ripe for the picking, even though they themselves return from a Test drubbing inflicted by Pakistan in the UAE.
They will try to prey on any perceived weakness they believe the Proteas have – and there are many to be found at this stage – and with their sound Test record here in South Africa post-isolation, they will possess even greater self-belief.
Amla knows his team need to improve when the home summer starts. And if that means starting with something very basic like having to fight for a draw, they have shown they are not afraid to play “ugly cricket” to achieve their objective.
@IndyCapeSportThe value of the Proteas’ fighting spirit that was on display on Monday against India epitomises what Test cricket has always been about – a dog-fight until the very end.
Original source: Zaahier Adams doffs cap to AB