India and South Africa drew an epic test on Sunday as the South Africans fell just eight runs short of a record run chase and one of cricket's most improbable wins.
Facing a mammoth target of 458, South Africa had put itself on course for a stunning win through a 205-run partnership between Faf du Plessis and AB de Villiers, who both made centuries.
India then clawed its way back in a gripping finale to remove both those players, and JP Duminy for just 5, to leave tailenders Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn clinging on for the draw.
South Africa's 450-7 was still the third-highest fourth-innings total ever in more than 2,000 games of test cricket.
India did what they had to in the session -- they got two wickets. Alviro Petersen (76) and Jacques Kallis (34) were the men the visitors managed to dismiss and that just about evened the session.
SA lost Petersen early after he played on to a fairly innocuous delivery from Mohammad Shami. The feet didn't move and the ball rattled the stumps. It was a wicket that gave India some hope after the right-hander and du Plessis had managed to play out the first few overs with a fair degree of comfort.
Then Kallis came in. We've all seen 'Big Jacques' stonewall for hours on end but today he was in the mood to play shots. Five fabulous cover drives for four showed that he wasn't in the mood for small talk. He looked positive and to SA's credit, all their batsmen haven't just looked to shut shop. They have played shots whenever the opportunity has presented itself.
Kallis and du Plessis were motoring along (54 runs in 11.2 overs) when the hosts were let down by a bad umpiring decision.
Zaheer Khan bowling from round the wicket, got one to angle in and Kallis appeared to miss it. The umpire gave him out but replays showed a huge edge. Kallis was dismissed for 34 off 37 balls and Zaheer Khan had his 300th Test wicket. He became just the third left-armer after Wasim Akram (414 wickets) and Chaminda Vaas (355 wickets) to reach the landmark.
India and South Africa beat the odds, deliver the unexpected
Number Cruncher: All the stats from the thrilling India vs SA draw
Images: All the stars of the nail-biting India vs SA draw
Shocked and surprised not to see SA go for the win: Kohli
Needed an effort from pacers and they delivered: Dhoni
AB de Villiers was in next and he wasn't in a mood to just buckle down either. He got 25 off 46 balls, playing very normal cricket.
In the 29-over session, 98 runs were scored for the loss of 2 wickets. At lunch, the hosts were 236-4.
India's worst fears came alive in the post-lunch session as South Africa scored the runs and didn't lose a single wicket. Du Plessis (88) and de Villiers (72) were spectacular -- they played the shots, kept the run-rate up and slowly but surely batted India out of the match.
By the end of the session, Ishant Sharma looked tired, Zaheer was out of ideas, Ashwin's containing role was not doing the trick and there was too much expected of Mohammad Shami. The only wickets India have got in this innings were not a direct result of the bowling -- Smith was run out, Petersen played on, Amla misjudged the bounce and Kallis was not out .
Shami was clearly India's finest bowler -- he was at least beating the batsmen. The remaining bowlers simply didn't do enough. The odd ball would so something off the pitch but India seemed spent.
Zaheer kept coming around the wicket for the entire session -- not once did he go back over the wicket and try and exploit the left-armers natural angle. If nothing else, it would have been a change.
In 31 overs during the session, SA scored 95 runs and didn't lose a wicket. If you were to back a team in the current scenario, SA would be it. It's quite amazing how they have not got bogged down or even looked to play for a draw at any point in their innings.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni put it best at the post match conference: "We could have lost this match easily."
The words of the Indian skipper almost make one believe that South Africa were chasing not 458 runs but a much smaller target but that's exactly how well SA chased.
Going into the last session, South Africa had the edge but it soon became apparent that they had the self-confidence too. Du Plessis and de Villiers continued to bat -- scoring runs with ease, picking up the singles, the twos and the odd boundary. And with each passing over, the pressure was simply piling on.
Then Ishant Sharma sent de Villiers (103) back. With South Africa still needing 56 runs -- AB chopped it back onto the stumps. It was back of a length and the right-hander tried to steer the ball to third man for a single. It immediately seemed to lift the spirits of the India bowlers, who had almost started to look pretty ragged.
JP Duminy was in next and he was greeted by a snorter from Ishant. Suddenly, it seemed like scoring wasn't that easy. The left-hander didn't last too long -- making 5 before he too played on.
But as long as Du Plessis stayed in the middle, South Africa would have a chance. Dhoni knew that and so did the Indian bowlers. In Philander, the right-hander found a willing partner too. And SA once again slowly started making their way to victory.
With 10 overs left in the match, SA needed 47 more runs to win. With six overs to go, the target was down to 31. And then it go closer -- SA needed 20 to win off 24 balls.. they could do it in the singles.
Then Du Plessis (134 runs) slapped a ball away for four (16 runs off 21 balls) but then he decided to go for a quick single. He hit the ball towards midd-off and set off immediately but Rahane was alert and he scored with a direct hit. And that was that.
"It was all a blue at that stage. I probably should have just stayed there and let Philander take the risks. But credit to India, they had two chances and they took them both," said Du Plessis after the game.
After Du Plessis' wicket, SA didn't score a run for 14 balls. The equation changed and eventually both sides decided they didn't want to lose -- more than they wanted to win.
SA ended an agonising 8 runs short of stealing the win -- they were dead and gone for many yesterday and for them to finish with a draw is a great result. And the same is true for India too -- not many would have expected them to push SA into a corner as they did... to have a chance of winning a match but they did.
Both teams go into Durban for the second Test, with everything to play for and that's something we can all look forward to as well.
-- With inputs from AP
First Published On : Dec 23, 2013 13:02 IST