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
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.
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.