TELFORD VICE, Nagpur
AND so falls a record that has stood for the nine long years in which SA have not lost 14 away series. No. 15, it turns out, is where the rubber meets the road.
The final nail was hammered home at 3.22pm at Jamtha in Nagpur on Friday, when off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin ripped a delivery past everything Morne Morkel tried to thrust in its way and took out the left-hander’s leg stump.
With that, India won by 124 runs to claim the series. The clock was stopped at 52 minutes after tea on the third day.
Ashwin took 7/66 in the innings and 12/98 in the match. Only three Indians have taken more wickets in a single test, and only once has one of their bowlers conceded fewer runs in pursuit of a dozen or more scalps – Ashwin himself.
In his final, dominant spell, Ashwin bowled 29 balls and claimed 4/16. As he reaped those victims, he loomed taller than his 1.88 metres, his flurry of arms and elbows looked razor-tipped, and his hot, heavy intensity could be felt a hundred and more metres away behind a plate glass window and despite full-blown air-conditioning.
SA delivered their most stoic batting performance of the series, but it was not enough – and was never going to be enough – to put them within sight of their target of 310, which was almost 100 runs bigger than any of the three totals they had posted in their previous four innings.
However, the visitors will take with them to the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi, where the suddenly insignificant fourth test will start on December 3, the hope that Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis, their troubled senior batsmen, have turned the corner.
Amla stayed alive for more than three-and-a-half hours, Du Plessis was there for three hours, and together they defied the twitchy, testy Indians for 173 minutes in a stand of 72 – by more than an hour SA’s longest partnership of the series.
They were dismissed a dozen balls apart, Amla smartly caught by a leaping Virat Kohli in the gully and Du Plessis bowled trying to pull a straight delivery that kept low. Leg spinner Amit Mishra struck both blows.
With Amla and Du Plessis went whatever mad dream SA might have had of winning this unwinnable match.
By then AB de Villiers had been picked off lbw by a straightening carrom ball from Ashwin and, in the 10th over after Du Plessis was out, JP Duminy offered no stroke to Ashwin and was also leg-before.
Ashwin was bowling with a second new ball for the first time in the seven completed innings seen in this series.
The pitch was the awfulness it has been throughout this match, and worse. But SA found ways to survive on it for long enough to create the impression that they had resigned themselves to the unfairness of it all.
Prospering on this pitch out of the question. But, hey, you can’t have everything. And it’s not as if anyone thought the outcome would be different.
Friday’s result had been written on the wall for days. Or should that be etched into a particular slab of earth?