Though they lost the series, India clung on to the top spot in the rankings by sealing a famous win in the final Test in South Africa.
South Africa were chasing 241 for a series sweep, on what had appeared a treacherous pitch on the third day. Batting, for the best part of the game, looked close to impossible.
On the fourth morning, however, Dean Elgar and Hashim Amla knuckled down to put together a partnership that looked like it would define the game. They went on, adding 119 runs together, to push India to a corner.
India needed something special. Hardik Pandya provided it.
It was an innocuous-looking delivery from Ishant Sharma, and Amla went for the flick, a shot he has played with great success for many years. He played it well too, but Pandya leapt across to his right at short mid-wicket and plucked the catch out of thin air.
Catches win matches, they say. This one certainly turned things around for India, and South Africa, from 124/1, were shot out for 177.
India’s first Test challenge of 2018 – the tour of South Africa – was always going to be a tough one, and it was. Both the first and second Tests were closely contested, but South Africa won the key moments as India faltered and went 2-0 ahead with wins by 72 runs and 135 runs.
The series was gone, but as far as the Mace was concerned, it came down to the final Test.
At no stage must any batsman have felt comfortable on the Wanderers pitch, where there was pace, bounce and lots and lots of lateral movement. Both teams picked all-pace attacks, and it was evident why. India scored 187 in the first innings in over 76 overs. Cheteshwar Pujara took 54 balls to get off the mark before going on to score 50.
If India struggled – manfully, one must add – it wasn’t too different when South Africa batted. They only got a seven-run lead, Amla’s 61 shoring them up.
India again, and this time they got to 247. Murali Vijay batted over three hours to score 25, Virat Kohli was more enterprising in his 41, Ajinkya Rahane was even more adventurous in scoring a 68-ball 48, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammed Shami scored crucial runs in the end to help set a target they managed to defend.
They might not have been able to, but for that Pandya catch.
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