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Pugnacious South Africa refuse to hit rock bottom

by   •  Last updated on 2020-04-13 15:19:29

The art of the graft is, as in all things associated with Test cricket, a difficult thing to master. This South African team will be best remembered for possessing a batting group that is probably the most accomplished at doing this. Time and again, they've shown that when it is time to shut shop, there are few who can do it as well as they can. At the end of the fourth day, they had scored 72 in 72 overs. It is a piece of stat that will boggle with each reading. 72 runs in 72 overs. Particularly in a generation that has crowds baying for fours and sixes every other ball, it is impressive that the art of the graft has torch-bearers still.

For viewers attuned to the faster strike-rates, it might make for incredibly painful viewing. But the drama isn't lost. A captain under pressure for lack of runs in the series, was willing to bat out 207 balls for just 23 runs, the lowest by any batsman who has batted for over 200 balls. Close to zero personal gain there. There were a few runs for the taking had Hashim Amla not chosen to block anything in sight. But it was a statement of intent.

The viewing through Television of a blockathon might be quite different from how it was experienced on the ground. On TV, the pitch, the batsmen and the bowler are the only points of focus. The repeated soft pats onto the pitch are not dramatic if viewed as a singular entity, but make no mistake, the bigger battle wasn't lost on the crowd, roughly the best for all the days so far, and they stayed on right until the last ball was bowled by R Ashwin and missed by AB de Villiers.

Groans of agony echoed. It was the same crowd that had welcomed de Villiers with the now-familiar and ever-deafening chants of 'AB, AB' when he came to the crease. Much of AB's charisma is built upon his batting exploits, the runs that he scores and the way he scores them. When he walked out there were claps appreciating the 91-ball 11 with just one four. A little pride earned back for South Africa. They had quelled everything that India tried. Ashwin bowled leg-breaks, ran in between the umpire and the stumps, Ravindra Jadeja was switching angles, the fast bowlers switched to round-the wicket to create rough patches, Pujara had one foot almost on the pitch when standing at silly mid-off, Kohli was juggling his fielders and bowlers around. Everything and more was met with resolute defence. All this in a dead rubber. This was for pride.

They have not played like themselves in the entire series and the batting in particular has failed to live up to the hype. The core of this batting group, along with the fast bowlers, have had many a memorable success on their way to becoming the No. 1 side in the world. The most recalled Tests of these men are the ones where they have been the likes of Adelaide, Colombo and Cape Town.

In Adelaide, Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers defied Australia through the last two days. In Colombo, Amla had a strike-rate of 15 as South Africa hung on in fading light with two wickets. In Cape Town, Australia were made to stretch and sweat until Ryan Harris bowled his heart out to end de Villiers and his colleagues' defiance. In between they also came eight runs within chasing down a target of 458 against India. Amla, de Villiers and Faf du Plessis have been the cornerstones of the previous efforts.

Whether Delhi does join the annals of the aforementioned Tests will be decided only after the fifth day's play, but two of the bedrocks of South Africa's batting have already rekindled the magic of the past. Du Plessis is yet to have a bat. Unlike the previous series', the overall result has already been decided but it is a matter of pride, and legacy. South Africa will want something from the Test series that they can be proud of. And as they've shown today, they will be fighting for it by the skin of their teeth, as only they can do.