Amla main­tains hon­our as In­dia lay waste to streak

Proteas not shift­ing the blame for a first se­ries loss on the road in nine years

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - LUN­GANI ZAMA

THE streak is over. The streak that spanned 15 se­ries, and ev­ery ma­jor Test play­ing na­tion, is over. The streak that lifted the Proteas to the sum­mit of Test cricket is over. The streak that saw the leg­end of South Africa’s never- say- die at­ti­tude, their char­ac­ter and their adapt­abil­ity, grow and grow was fi­nally sapped, on a warm af­ter­noon on the sub­con­ti­nent yes­ter­day.

But even in the face of in­evitable fail­ure, South Africa held up In­dia’s doc­tored corona­tion un­til the fi­nal ses­sion. There were those who ex­pected the deed to be done by lunch pos­si­bly, but cer­tainly be­fore tea.

Those naysay­ers looked to have called it cor­rectly when opener Dean El­gar, not out overnight with cap­tain Hashim Amla, was out early, caught off the in­side edge from the re­lent­less Ravichan­dran Ash­win for 18.

Soon af­ter El­gar’s exit, the visi­tors’ like­li­est route to vic­tory, AB De Villiers, was culde-saced by Ash­win, who tor­tured him with sev­eral, spit­ting off-breaks be­fore he hit him with that dead­li­est of de­liv­er­ies on this tour – the straight one. De Villiers was dead in front, and with his demise In­dia’s chest puffed out, with the South Africans at 58/4.

To their en­dur­ing credit, skip­per Amla and lieu­tenant Faf du Plessis dug their heels in and sim­ply made In­dia and the rest of the party wait. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t el­e­gant for large chunks, as they both chis­elled out the grit­ti­est 39 of their bat­ting ca­reers.

Du Plessis, who has made a name for him­self as some­thing of a “Die Hard” when the sit­u­a­tion calls for it, said he had never worked so hard, for so lit­tle, in the big­ger scheme of things.

His part­ner­ship with Amla killed time, but it made lit­tle to no dent on the deficit. In­deed, it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to score and sur­vive at the same time, given the ac­cu­racy of the In­dian bowlers.

It’s tough, is Test cricket. It is sup­posed to be, too. In­evitably, of course, the ques­tion will arise af­ter Nag­pur if this was un­nec­es­sar­ily tough?

“It’s dif­fi­cult for us to an­swer that, be­ing on the los­ing side, but whether you win or lose, as a South African team the way we fought to­day, you want to lose hon­ourably and you want to win hon­ourably. So I can’t com­ment too much on the wick­ets and things like that,” Amla said.

South Africa have re­solved to keep their coun­sel on mat­ters con­cern­ing the wicket, lest it be taken as an ex­cuse. For bet­ter or for worse (con­di­tions), the Proteas are not shift­ing the blame for their first se­ries loss on the road in nine years.

They have, in­stead, looked at their short­com­ings in this se­ries, with Amla lament­ing that he didn’t score as heav­ily as he so of­ten has against In­dia.

“You can’t keep scor­ing runs against the same team all the time, al­though you would like to,” Amla smiled.

“I think the wick­ets were a lot more chal­leng­ing. I know the first time I came to In­dia in 2008, and even in 2010, fac­ing Anil Kum­ble, Harb­ha­jan (Singh)... I think if I had to face them on th­ese kind of wick­ets, I wouldn’t have got any runs ei­ther. So I put it down more to the wick­ets.”

It was cer­tainly not just Amla who strug­gled to get runs. The score­cards will re­flect that the high­est score in Nag­pur was just 40, and that many wick­ets fell in less than 250 overs, in a match that in­cluded sev­eral of the finest bats­men in the mod­ern game.

It wasn’t just South Africa who toiled, but their col­lapse in the first in­nings took them too far out of this match, which is why they ended up los­ing by 124 runs.

The score­cards will also tell that the Proteas, with their backs to the wall, some­how bat­ted for 90 overs in the fourth in­nings, in their fi­nal stand as a team that hadn’t tasted de­feat on the road for nearly a decade.

There, they will look to start again. Nag­pur may have ended the great streak, but it was also, in a curious way, the ul­ti­mate show of re­spect from In­dia for a team that has been un­com­monly suc­cess­ful for mod­ern trav­ellers.

The hosts, with all their spin vari­a­tions, deemed it too de­mand­ing to take the South Africans on with a level play­ing track.

And so, 11 tourists played against 12 lo­cals. There was a joke do­ing the press box yes­ter­day, as the last rites were ad­min­is­tered, that the cu­ra­tor hadn’t been spot­ted for sev­eral hours.

“Oh, he’s just gone to get his suit from the tai­lor, so he can ac­cept his Man- of- the­Match award from Ash­win.”

Delhi is the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion and Amla and his men will be de­ter­mined to win there. Some­how, 2-1 is a fairer re­flec­tion of events than 3-0.

REUTERS

THIS IS HOW WE DO: Vi­rat Kohli cel­e­brates his first Test se­ries win as In­dia cap­tain af­ter South Africa lost by 124 runs in the third Test yes­ter­day to hand the hosts an unas­sail­able 2-0 lead in their four-match duel.

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