After Rahane’s second hundred of the game, visitor stonewalls to 72 for 2 in 72 overs chasing 481 for victory
Occasionally reliable sources at the Delhi and District Cricket Association confirmed that Barack Obama was not, in fact, present at the Ferozeshah Kotla on Sunday (December 6). His presence might have explained South Africa’s remarkable blockathon in which, despite its best effort, 72 runs accrued, from 72 overs, with two wickets lost.
The last time such a famously slow day’s play occurred was back in 1959 – on December 8, so there might be something to this time of the year that sends tortoises into their shells – when Dwight Eisenhower, then president of the United States of America, watched a day’s play in Karachi in which Pakistan made 104 for 5 till the sun set. That was the first recorded instance of an American president at Test cricket.
But it was not all block and bunt, for when the day dawned, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane were still at the crease. While it was Kohli who looked destined to score a hundred, it was Rahane who ticked the box. Kohli (88) made no mistakes, but a length ball from Kyle Abbott kept low and beat his legitimate shot, trapping him in front of the stumps. Rahane, who had only concerned himself with protecting the partnership while Kohli at the crease, promptly switched to fun and frolic mode. Having spent 160 balls getting to 52, Rahane then pounced, playing the ramp shot, the slog sweep, the big golf swing back down the ground to clatter sixes around the park. When he tucked one neatly off his pads to pick up a single and reach his second century of the match, India declared on 267 for 5, leaving South Africa with what is for technical purposes a target of 481.
Rahane’s last 48 runs had come off only 46 balls and he had joined the most unique of clubs, becoming only the fifth Indian batsman to score twin centuries in a Test. Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar (thrice), Rahul Dravid (twice) and Kohli are the other Indians to manage this elusive milestone.
South Africa began with Dean Elgar poking half forward to a full ball and nicking off to slip off R Ashwin. Hashim Amla came out to the middle and instantly his strategy became clear. Amla had decided to turn blocking into a form of worship and displayed extreme self denial. He took 46 balls to score his first run, and even that was unintentional, a Ravindra Jadeja delivery spearing off the edge just behind square for a single. Temba Bavuma, who had been patient, but not quite as single-mindedly determined not to score any runs, helped see off 38.4 overs with Amla, in which only 44 runs were scored before Ashwin slid one past the outside edge to peg back the offstump.
From there on, India would taste no success, nor come especially close as Amla and AB de Villiers, of all people, batted out nearly 30 overs, scoring 23 runs in the time.
This was a day when you had to dip into the archive, delving deep to shine light on the kind of records that usually rest anonymously in the shade. John Murray’s record of scoring his first run off the 80th ball he faced, in the 1962 Ashes, was threatened, but Jadeja denied Amla that mark. This was cricket statistics in reverse as Amla brought up his 200 (deliveries faced) off only 22 runs. This might change, but, as of stumps on the fourth day, no batsman had faced more balls for fewer returns. England’s Jack Russell once consumed 235 balls for only 29, against South Africa in Johannesburg in 1985, but even that came at a strike rate of 12.34. Amla, currently on 23 from 207 balls, is scoring at 11.11 runs every hundred balls, and has every chance to improve on this – what constitutes improvement in these backward records is debatable – with a whole day’s play ahead of him.
In the past, Amla has shown that he has the ability to defend without once looking at the scoreboard but anyone who believed that de Villiers could do the same would have been whisked away by the men in long white coats and shown to a padded room. But, to his credit, de Villiers did just that, playing 32 run-less balls before adding to the scoreboard. With Amla, de Villiers shepherded South Africa through a passage of play when no runs were scored in 62 balls. Not one to be denied, Kohli brought on part-time offie Shikhar Dhawan, who offered up two full-tosses that even Amla could not bear to block.
The pitch had slowed down considerably, and India’s bowlers stuck to their guns for the best part, making the Amla-de Villiers partnership all the more special for its parsimony.
When stumps were drawn, South Africa was 72 for 2 from 72 overs, and India had plenty of cause for concern. After all, Amla and de Villiers, as good as they were, can’t hold a candle to Faf du Plessis when it comes to blocking the life out of a game.
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