There are few aspects of cricket tougher than batting to save a Test you know you can't win. Taking guard ball after ball, hour after hour, sometimes day after day even is as much about mental fortitude as technical prowess.
And as the conditions become progressively more difficult, there comes a point when doggedness and patience become more treasured than a batsman's ability to play by the textbook. South Africa's demoralising 203-run loss to India in the first Test in Visakhapatnam was a reminder of that.
When Ravichandran Ashwin cleaned up Theunis de Bruyn to become the joint-fastest ever (66 Tests) — with Sri Lankan great Muttiah Muralitharan —to 350 Test wickets, you knew South Africa's fate was going to hinge more on the virtue of patience than technique.
The visitor had skipper Faf du Plessis in the middle who seven years ago, in his debut Test against Australia, scored an epic unbeaten fourth-innings hundred, which lasted nearly eight hours in the heat and humidity of Adelaide, to salvage an improbable draw. Could he do it again?
Surely not, said Mohammad Shami after getting the ball to shape back in sharply from outside off, only for the right-hander to shoulder arms and watch in disbelief, as the stumps lay shattered.
Quinton de Kock was next. The centurion from last innings met the same fate in Shami's next over - a length ball around off straightened after pitching and crashed into the off-stump. And when Ravindra Jadeja got rid of Aiden Markram with a brilliant caught-and-bowled, the end looked nigh.
But Dane Piedt and Senuran Muthusamy dug in, got settled and frustrated the bowlers with a stodgy 91-run ninth-wicket stand. Piedt showed great application during his 107-ball 56 — highest fourth-innings score by a No. 8 batsman in India — but was castled by Shami after lunch. He then had Kagiso Rabada caught behind to complete a five-for, and give India a 1-0 lead in the three-match Test series.
Since 2015, only two teams had batted more than 100 overs in the fourth innings in India, the last one being Sri Lanka, in 2017. Virat Kohli and his men kept the record intact at the ADC-VDCA Stadium on Sunday.
The teams now travel to Pune for the second Test, starting October 10 at the Maharashtra Cricket Association (MCA) ground.
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