Johannesburg - Dean Elgar was done taking body blows. His shoulder, his back, the inside of his left knee, his hand, hip - had all taken shots from the Indian fast bowlers.
Then Elgar started delivering punches of his own; a glance through gully, a pull through midwicket, a drive passed mid-on, an upper-cut over the slips off a seething Mohammed Siraj, and then the flick through midwicket off Ravi Ashwin. That last one confirmed this incredible victory. Elgar punched the air.
It was bloody-mindedness at its finest. This South African team was not supposed to do that - beat this Indian team. This South African team didn’t have enough batters, Keshav Maharaj was a wasted selection, Aiden Markram should have moved down the order, Temba Bavuma can’t make hundreds, Kagiso Rabada isn’t good any more.
For over five hours in South Africa’s second innings, Elgar resisted everything India threw at him on a pitch that was still giving fast bowlers plenty of assistance on Thursday, with balls shooting up and hitting batters in the thigh and chest. Mohammed Shami and Shardul Thakur were still beating the outside edge in a passage of play that saw Rassie van der Dussen dismissed by the former. The outcome then was still in the balance.
Elgar tipped the balance.
He had help. Van der Dussen, showing more aggression when play resumed, made 40, lending invaluable support in a partnership of 82 for the third wicket. Temba Bavuma, scored 23 not out, his partnership with Elgar worth 68.
This was the captain leading from the front.
Before the match he’d talked about turning the talks the players had had following the defeat in Centurion, into “actions.” All those plans and all that positive reinforcement needed to be reflected on the field.
Twice in the first innings South Africa gave away opportunities, to put India properly under pressure. In the second innings, that never happened. Elgar ensured that was the case.
While Markram sparkled in making 31, Elgar dug in. Keegan Petersen scored a nice 28, while Elgar took the blows to the shoulder from Jasprit Bumrah and the back from Shami.
Every blow, made those competitive juices flow, fueled his desire still more and hardened his will.
Conditions on Thursday weren’t easy. As the players took to the field at 3.45pm, it got murkier, and the floodlights didn’t make it any easier. India’s bowlers had been magnificent in this series until Thursday.
The pressure of the moment, the expectations they had of themselves in conditions that were favourable to them and the prospect of making history, however weighed too heavily. They went away from the plans that had made them so potent at Centurion and so good in the first innings here. There were too many short balls which the South African batters were happy to pull or cut and in some cases duck under, and watching it sail over a leaping Rishabh Pant to the boundary.
It was just the outcome Elgar’s gritty patience had created. And as the required runs fell below, 70, then 50, then 30, so India grew more frustrated. Siraj sledged. So did Shardul Thakur and Bumrah wasn’t smiling anymore. For them, this was an opportunity missed. They will need to regain their composure for Cape Town.
For Elgar and the Proteas, this was a release. A first win for Marco Jansen to celebrate. A first Test win for Duanne Olivier in three years, a win against the best Test team in the world in the last 12 months, in a match that ebbed and flowed with raw energy. This was a fun match to watch, and certainly to play, and winning it would have elevated the enjoyment for the home team.
With respect to the West Indies, but Elgar now has the win his captaincy needed. He mentioned afterwards, how in leading the team, the respect for him - naturally there among the players because he is the captain - will surge now given this performance.
He punched back hard, the Indians felt it, and most certainly his own teammates did too.