TELFORD VICE, Delhi
THE relevance drained out of the fourth test between India and SA at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi on Sunday. And the records rained.
SA’s target of 481 is the biggest they have yet been set by India in the 33 tests the teams have contested. At stumps on the fourth day, the visitors, who batted with the same mindset they might have adopted to chip away at an iceberg using a toothpick, had reached 72/2. They had also faced 72 overs.
Only in two of the 247 tests staged in India previously have fewer runs been scored in a full day’s play than the 149 that crept onto the scoreboard on Sunday.
The 46 balls Hashim Amla took to get off the mark puts him second on the SA list behind Clive Eksteen, who needed one more ball to do so against New Zealand in Auckland in 1995.
Amla’s strike rate on Sunday, 11.11, was the third-slowest in innings of at least 150 deliveries.
After facing 200 balls, Amla had scored 22 runs. Only Pakistan’s Hanif Mohammad, who eked out 12 off 200 against England at Lord’s in 1954, has had a dowdier double century of deliveries.
AB de Villiers, who scored a one-day century off 31 balls in January, took his first run off the 32nd delivery he faced on Sunday.
He will resume on Monday on 11 off 91 balls. Amla’s undefeated 23 has taken 207 deliveries out of the game.
But there were also a reason not to be numbed by the numbers. Ajinkya Rahane’s unbeaten 100 made him the 81st player in history and the fifth Indian to score centuries in both innings of a test. He is the 10th man to do so against SA.
Apologies for all the trivia, but this test’s tipping point has been reached.
SA have next to no chance of chasing down the target, and only victory can stop India from leaping from fourth to second in the rankings.
Even drawing the match is 90 long overs away. Getting there against Ravichandran Ashwin will mean passing the sternest test of resolve. And, with India having already won the series, doing so won’t mean anything more than that.
Not that Temba Bavuma sees things that way: “We have the experience and we have the skill. Whatever happens we’ll be going down fighting.”
Bavuma has already done his bit, standing firm for 117 balls for his 34 – a decent job by a man who is opening the innings for the first time in only his fifth test. For the Lions, he started last season at No. 3 and finished at No. 5.
“That was the toughest piece of batting I’ve had to do in my life,” Bavuma said. “I always try to be positive and I always try to look to score runs.
“When I was put in a situation where the runs weren’t the priority but the amount of time you batted out there was the key thing, that was tough for me.”
But, somehow, he had fun in the close company of a field that, for Ashwin, featured a silly mid-off, two slips, a leg slip and a short leg.
“They’re known for their theatre around the bat. They’re always trying to put you under pressure and force you to play out of character. That comes with the game. It makes it a bit more enjoyable.”
Much more of that attitude and, given that this is exponentially the best pitch of the series, we could dawdle towards a draw on Monday. Surely not …