Pujara, Kohli take India to 68 for 2, a deficit of 98 runs, after South Africa posts 500 on day four
It sounds odd to say so when South Africa got themselves into an excellent position to push for a win on the final day of the second Test, but a less skillful batting line-up than India may have fared much worse. Faced with a first-innings deficit of 166 after Jacques Kallis scored a fairy-tale final-Test hundred, India’s top order saw off an exception spell of fast bowling in fading light to reach 68 for 2.
Sachin Tendulkar enjoyed a long kiss goodbye in his final series, a two-Test affair that ended at his home ground, but was denied a century in his last dig. Tendulkar made a beautiful 74, but Kallis went one better. Against an opposition team that dug deeper and fought harder as the going got tough – something West Indies comprehensively denied Tendulkar – Kallis played an innings that perfectly encapsulated his 18-year career.
To begin with, when he had the adventurous AB de Villiers for company, Kallis played the ball rather than the situation, uncorking an array of pretty cover drives against the quick bowlers and lofting the spinner back over his head with ease. When wickets fell, however, Kallis retreated without having to be told to do so. Instead of playing the most pleasing of shots, Kallis focussed on constructing an innings.
Resuming on 78, Kallis combined high-quality defence with decisive placement and running to swiftly go past the eighties and nineties. There were no signs of any nerves, and if emotion was running high, Kallis did not show it. A nudge towards mid-on off Ravindra Jadeja allowed Kallis to get to three figures, and only then did he let on how much it meant to him. A wave of the bat to the sparse but vocal crowd, an acknowledgment of team-mates, who were drumming on the glass in the dressing-room, a look up to the heavens in memory of his father, Henry, and the big man was at peace.
India got lucky 15 runs later when Kallis, having just gone past Rahul Dravid to third position on the list of all-time Test run-getters, top-edged a slog sweep straight up in the air for the keeper to catch. Kallis’ 115 had come off more than seven hours spent at the crease, and took him to 13289 runs and 45 centuries. As he walked back to the dressing-room, he was intercepted by his team-mates, each of whom wanted to show their appreciation, Graeme Smith leading the way, planting a kiss on Kallis’ forehead.
If you thought the Test match was all about Kallis, you would be right and wrong. While ten of South Africa's cricketers seemed to be doing all they could to ensure that there was a chance to win the game, Kallis was in his bubble, simply batting to the best of his ability. Once Kallis was gone, having laid the foundation and secured a 50-run lead, the lower order kicked into gear.
India, concerned that taking the second new ball would result in a flurry of boundaries and quick runs to the South African total, operated with the old one till it was completely unusable. After 147 overs, the red Kookaburra gave way, and umpires Steve Davis and Rod Tucker forced the change. By then, though, Dale Steyn had allowed himself a merry whack, having seen off his nightwatchman duties and posted 44. Faf du Plessis helped himself to 43 and Robin Petersen led the charge with an energetic and imaginative 52-ball 61 that included the only six of the innings, a switch-hit off Rohit Sharma landing in the stands.
Even a rain break did not force a declaration, and when South Africa was finally bowled out for an even 500, only Jadeja – who ended with career-best figures of 6 for 138 from a marathon 58.2 overs – had anything positive to show for his effort.
India began its second innings needing to both consume time and score runs, but neither exercise was made easier by Steyn and Vernon Philander. Steyn had the batsmen on the back foot with a series of well-directed, short-pitched bowling, while Philander drew them forward mercilessly. M Vijay paid the ultimate price when he was forced to play at Philander, but could not adjust to a ball that left him, and edged straight to Smith at first slip. At 8 for 1, India was in the middle of a passage of play that could seal the fate of the game. A couple of more lapses at that stage, and the final day would have been a mere formality.
Yet Dhawan hung on bravely in the company of Cheteshwar Pujara, who suffered a nasty blow to the arm early in his innings from Steyn. Dhawan was good enough to leave the wicket-taking deliveries alone, and he had done all the hard work when he fell to a miraculous catch. On 19 from 87 balls, having stuck it out for two hours, Dhawan whipped Petersen in the direction of midwicket. A ball that was destined for the boundary was plucked out of the air by Du Plessis, leaping into the air like a dolphin might to snag a fish held out by a trainer.
Kohli and Pujara ensured that India did not suffer any further damage and when stumps were drawn India had reached 68 for 2, and was adrift by 98 runs.
Things would only get more difficult for the batting side on the final day, but at least Dhawan and Pujara had shown that this team had both the temperament and the technique to bat long and hard.