India and South Africa disappoint at the Wanderers

Published in The Roar on December 24 2013.

The crowd at the Wanderers, on the edge of their seats throughout much of day five, were entitled to boo both India and South Africa as a thrilling match turned to a negative, timid affair.

The atmosphere had been electric, with all three results possible in a thrilling ending to an epic Test match between the world’s top ranked Test teams.

At the end of the day, a draw was probably the best result considering nothing separated either side after five grueling days of Test cricket.

It would have been unfair for either side to return to the dressing rooms with a loss after playing out such a tight fought match.

In cricket, a draw is a result in itself, and often an exciting end to any Test match. But for both teams to throw in the towel and opt out of chasing victory at the death was, to say the least, pathetic.

At several points for either team, it was certainly the correct, prudent option to take the draw and keep their series alive. But it’s undoubtable both sides also had ample opportunity to push for victory, but shied away.

We should expect much more from the best in world cricket.

Even following the fall of JP Duminy’s wicket, India were right in pushing for the draw with only 41 runs required for a South African victory.

But with four wickets still in hand, why was Faf du Plessis happy to block and leave any wide deliveries to the keeper?

At a time where singles were on offer all over the ground and Vernon Philander at the non-striker’s end (a half-century under his belt from the first innings), simply ticking the scoreboard over was a sure fire path to victory.

Du Plessis’ century was utterly outstanding, but after Duminy’s dismissal, ten of Faf’s next 13 shots were either leaves or blocks.

Perhaps it was this slow run rate that forced du Plessis to push for a stupid single that threw his wicket away and ended South Africa’s chance of victory.

With three overs left and only three wickets remaining, India had turned the tables, and South Africa were now correct in playing for the draw, especially considering injured Morne Morkel and lemon Imran Tahir were the two incoming batsmen.

But so close to victory, why did the Indians not try to bowl their opponents out?

The third last over, bowled by Mohammed Shami, was defensive, seeking to prevent a victory Dale Steyn and the South Africans weren’t even considering.

Five deliveries in the over were short pitched and easily evaded. That left only one ball that might have been a possible wicket taker.

Next over, Philander faced no pressure whatsoever, a field mostly on the boundary attempting to get Steyn on strike, now far too late considering their wasted opportunity to attack Steyn’s wicket the previous over.

After such scintillating cricket, it was a dismal final display by the world’s top ranked sides.

With something special on the offing, at the death all 13 cricketers on the field may as well have shook hands and retired early to the change rooms – it would have been just as exciting.