Johannesburg - Imagine being Marco Jansen, Kyle Verreynne or Keegan Petersen, and being told they just did something that Jacques Kallis, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Graeme Smith, Makhaya Ntini, and AB de Villiers couldn’t do.
None of those great names were in teams that beat India at the Wanderers. Jansen, Verreynne and Petersen – with 10 Test caps among them – did. It’s one of those strange cricket quirks but in helping them to understand what they were a part of at the Wanderers this week, Mark Boucher – ya, he never did it either – might point to the seven-wicket win and tell them that, as inexperienced as they are, they did something the greats of the game from this country couldn’t.
Imagine the lift that will give them as they head to Newlands for the final Test of what has been a captivating series.
The Wanderers served up a spell-binding encounter – Test cricket at its finest, with the advantage swinging one way, then another. Dean Elgar, exhausted after his sterling efforts, described facing this Indian team as being “stressful and intense”. He was glad not to have to come back for a fifth day on Friday.
South Africa had bowled well in the first innings after a sluggish start, with Lungi Ngidi, although finishing wicketless in that innings, setting the tone with a fine pre-lunch spell on the first day. First Duanne Olivier, playing in his first Test in three years and then Jansen, bowling more at the stumps than was the case in Centurion, nipped out the Indians in the first innings.
Twice South Africa let an advantage slip. First after Elgar and Petersen, who made an excellent 62, shared a stand of 74 for the second wicket and then again when Temba Bavuma and Verreynne added 60 for the fifth. The opportunity to claim a substantial first innings lead was missed.
The opposition had the means to fight back, which India did thanks to Shardul Thakur, and the pitch was not an easy one for batting. South Africa played two bad sessions on the second evening and then the flat first hour of the third morning, before Kagiso Rabada’s wonderful spell.
“We weren’t perfect in this game, there were times where we were off a bit, but (in) the big moments we played really well and fought hard,” Boucher told Supersport.
It’s strange that in a contest, where one player took 7/31, Thakur’s wasn’t the match-winning spell. That was produced by Rabada who, fuelled by his skipper’s tough love chat, dismissed Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara – breaking a 111-run partnership in the process – and Rishabh Pant, in a 15-ball burst after drinks on Wednesday morning.
Even then, South Africa didn’t immediately press home the advantage with India setting them 240 to win.
That looked highly unlikely for a few reasons. The pitch – which was starting to break up on the third day – the Indian bowlers, confident not just from what they did in Centurion, but how they have carried their side in the last 12 months to triumphs in England and Australia, and finally South Africa’s own batting, which has been fragile in the last three years.
Elgar had demanded more of his players in the wake of the Centurion defeat. Sure they had plenty to feel sorry about; Quinton de Kock’s sudden retirement, the lack of Test match play for the Proteas recently, being in a ‘bio bubble’ again and all the off-field drama that’s choked South African cricket in the last few years. However, self-pity wasn’t going to win them a Test match.
So he, as captain, made a statement. In over five hours of fierce concentration, using every iota of his determination, his skill and putting his body on the line, Elgar turned a highly unlikely target into one of the Proteas’ most glittering achievements. This was a magical and inspirational win. It was by no means flawless as Boucher acknowledged afterwards.
“We would like to have the perfect game, but that’s not Test match cricket. Sometimes you win a session and sometimes you lose one, so we understand we have to get our feet back on the ground,” he said.
Indeed, Elgar will ensure that is the case even before they board the flight for Cape Town.