Hashim Amla was finally shifted, after batting 224 balls. Faf du Plessis was cut off for 10 to the 97th ball he faced. JP Duminy made a fleeting appearance, with 0 for 12. All three wickets fell to spin, which was always going to be India’s success mode on day five. But the wicket of AB de Villiers eluded India for two sessions, leaving South Africa with one to play out to avert defeat and clinch what looked, yesterday morning, like an improbable draw.
South Africa’s score at tea on day five at the Feroz Shah Kotla is 136/5 from 38 overs, with de Villiers’ mesmerising vigil extended to 43 off 296 balls. He has dig deep into his reservoirs of patience and produced an innings that has surpassed, statistically, his unforgettable 230-ball 33 in the famous Adelaide draw of 2012. If cricket’s best batsman secures a draw in the session that remains, his effort will rank alongside the best back-to-the-wall rearguards Test cricket has seen. His marathon has been impossible to ignore.
India bowled well, for the most, but many chances didn’t go to hand. Amla, de Villiers and du Plessis were beaten many times over, edges fell short and wide of close catchers – at one stage, there were seven around the bat – and deliveries spun past and over the stumps while others were padded away out of the rough. Had this day five surface been anywhere near the square turners produced in Mohali and Nagpur, the Kotla Test would have been over two days ago. Instead, it has entered the final session of the series, with two of four results possible. This is what they call Test cricket.
That South Africa were going to try and last the day was obvious. Their overnight score – 72 runs in 72 overs – had set the tone and the sight of de Villiers standing at the nonstrikers’ end with his helmet under his left arm, legs crossed and bat resting on the popping crease while Amla faced up to Umesh Yadav in the fifth over of the morning was a reminder that South Africa weren’t in a hurry for runs.
Amla and de Villiers extending their alliance to 27 in 40.4 overs before Ravindra Jadeja struck with the second new ball, spinning one past Amla’s bat to hit off stump. That brought in du Plessis – he of the gritty eight-hour century on debut at Adelaide in 2012 to avert defeat – and he threatened to reprise that role. He showed no desire to score runs, outdoing Amla in opening his account off 53 deliveries.
Only twice, when R Ashwin sent down a long hop and a full toss while trying to bowl legbreaks, did de Villiers pummel boundaries through the vacant offside region. Otherwise, it was attritional cricket, as highlighted by Jadeja’s first spell of 11-11-0-1. Fielders crowded the crease, but du Plessis and de Villiers blocked and blocked and blocked.
Shorty before lunch, Umesh returned and rapped de Villiers on the fingers with two snorters, the first of which forced the batsman to fling aside his bat and summon the physio. Those two alarming deliveries were the closest an Indian bowler came to rattling de Villiers, for post lunch he was unflinching in his resolve.
Jadeja’s arm ball eventually did for du Plessis, ending a stand of 35 runs in 35.1 overs, and Duminy didn’t last long, given lbw for 0 when playing back to Ashwin. Joined by Dane Vilas, de Villiers ensured there were no more hiccups. The 45 balls faced by Vilas is the most he’s done so in a Test innings. He will be required to go on a bit longer.