TELFORD VICE, Delhi
THOSE are not Friday’s highlights (or, if you like, the lowlights) you’re blinking at on your television on Saturday morning. India are indeed batting again despite Virat Kohli having had the option of enforcing the follow-on and his bowlers having had a good night’s sleep.
Perhaps the broadcasters, who lost the equivalent of R172.4-million when none of the first three tests saw more than three days’ play, have pulled some strings. Or Kohli is not keen to bat last on a pitch that could start breaking up on Saturday.
Whichever, India will forge ahead and set SA a target that already seemed out of reach on Friday when stumps followed SA being bowled out 213 runs behind.
On the least worst pitch of the series, SA fiddled and burned to 121 all out in 49.3 overs. India bowled well and caught exceptionally well, but the visitors batted as if they had signed off on this series in Nagpur last Friday – when India scooped what little honour there is in winning on a purposefully poor pitch.
“It has been a long tour, but the talk leading into this match from our team was very good,” Russell Domingo said.
“It was about how important every test you play for SA is, how we know we haven’t played as well as we can and that we need to finish the series well.
“Whether it’s subconsciously a case of one foot one the plane, I can’t comment on that. But I thought our preparation going into this test was as good as it’s been going into any other test.
“We’ve just been outplayed here over two days, that’s the bottom line. Sometimes you’ve got to give credit to the opposition.”
You do: well done, India. For a change you have earned the advantage without a lot of help from your friends in the groundsman’s shed. Impilo. Veels geluk. Mazeltov. You must be so proud.
The match got away from SA during the 32.1 overs in which Ajinkya Rahane and Ravichandran Ashwin shared 98 for the eighth wicket, the biggest stand of the match so far.
The partnership started in the last hour on Thursday and survived a scare in the eighth over on Friday when Hashim Amla dropped Ashwin – then 14 not out – off Kyle Abbott. It was among three slip catches SA’s captain put down in the innings.
Ashwin’s 56 was all confidence and craftiness while Rahane showed wonderful grit and determination for his 127. It was every bit as challenging a performance as the five hours and 215 balls it consumed makes it sound.
When Abbott took two wickets in what became the last over of India’s innings to complete his haul of 5/40, SA at last had something to cheer.
They did, and why not. Besides his wickets, Abbott bowled 126 of his 149 deliveries for no runs and was dispatched to the boundary just four times.
Then Dean Elgar and Temba Bavuma put on 36 – more than twice as many as Elgar and Stiaan van Zyl managed in the best of their five opening partnerships in the series.
But the gloom returned as the wickets began tumbling, five of them to Ravindra Jadeja, the distinctly ordinary left-arm spinner SA have succeeded in making look extraordinary.
It has been an upside down cake of a series, at least from the perspective of South Africans searching for something, anything, to reassure them that not everything they thought they knew about the game had been ground into the dust of India’s startlingly foreign fields.
People come to this country to find themselves, the cliche goes. This SA team, it seems, have come here to lose not only the series but the temperament and tenacity that made them the best team in the game.
Happily, the fourth test doesn’t matter a jot and should, if cricket had any sense, have been cancelled the moment India sealed the series.
With mercy, it will end on Saturday.