The contest at the Wanderers had many memorable moments, which combined in the end to produce a stirring final product that will, for all times to come, symbolise why Test cricket is matchless. How ironic, and at the same time heartening, that India, the home of the T20 revolution and guilty of promoting the shorter version of the game at the expense of the long format, was part of this epic encounter.
No one had expected the Indian batsmen to have the resolve, technique and temperament to counter the South African pace attack on an extremely difficult pitch. Virat Kohli, whose swagger and confidence does not hide a streak of arrogance that the classics abhor, once again displayed that talent, which could one day make him one of the truly greats of the game.
Cheteshwar Pujara, a humbler version of Kohli, but no less talented, is evolving as a fulcrum, around which the Indian batting revolves. In the age of the IPL, to have someone like Pujara in the team is as much a wonder, as it is a testimony to the batsman’s love for the virtues and challenges of Test cricket.
These two, together, created a batting symphony, rare in the annals of Indian cricket. To have played well in extreme, adverse conditions may not be that rare, but to have seized the moment and built an edifice which promised a stunning victory must be hard to find in the past records of Indian cricket.
Having said this, I find it hard to fathom India harping too much upon why South Africa gave up the run-chase. Instead, they should be thankful that they managed to avert a defeat on the final day. A defeat that would have not only been embarrassing, but possibly shattered the very morale of the team. Teams that want to be world-beaters focus more on their limitations and not make too much fuss about the “weakness” of their rivals.
The major limitation of the Indian team has been the selfishness of the Indian Board, which led to this series being curtailed to just two Tests. Imagine this series being a long one, at least three Tests, and greater preparation time for the players! Did we need a mediocre West Indies to play at home to fill in the coffers of all those connected with Indian cricket at the expense of going on a full-fledged tour to South Africa?
There is one more point I want to make, something which has not got any attention so far in the Indian media, but needs to be written about and debated. On the final day of the match, Jaques Kallis was batting as if possessed by the gods. His driving on the off side was nothing short of divine and even if you were an Indian fan getting distraught at his onslaught, no one would have wanted his innings to end the way it did. A terrible umpiring error cut short an innings that surely must have had an impact on the final result of the match. Had something like this happened to Kohli or Pujara, we would have reacted with the same howl of indignation as we are doing at the moment in diplomat Khobragade’s case.
Even if we are against DRS being implemented, let us at least force the Indian Board to find ways and means where howlers like the one which cost Kallis his wicket can be eliminated from the game. At the cost of repeating myself hoarse, Indian cricket deserves better administrators.