South Africa were forced into a corner again facing the possibility of a 3-0 loss to India. A fourth innings target of 481 and five sessions to bat through meant that South Africa’s choices were limited. Captain Hashim Amla and AB de Villiers lead the way in South Africa’s latest blockathon with 25 from 244 balls and 43 from 297 respectively. The visitors made it through to the fifth session at 0.99 rpo but the South African tail could not hold on. The margin by which South Africa lost does not do the game any justice.
There have been several occasions on which South Africa have attempted (and for the most part succeeded) to do what very few others are willing to. For a team that has scored 400+ ODI totals on several occasions and includes some of the most dangerous players the cricketing world has seen, they have an incredible ability to score next to nothing. It may sound silly to some, but it’s an incredible gift in Test cricket. There are extremely few (if any) other teams that have the same ability. The ability to sit at the crease. To block not only the good balls but the bad balls too.
The first of South Africa’s block-capades was in 2012. It involved Australia and a Test debut for Faf du Plessis. du Plessis played through 376 balls at the Adelaide oval to save the Test and score his maiden Test century all in one go.
India were on the receiving end of another blockathon in 2013 but were less successful on this occasion. Facing a similar target of 458, South Africa toiled through the overs to pull off another draw in the first of two tests. du Plessis was once again at the centre of it all as he played out another 309 balls. He gave de Villiers the chance to free up and play some strokes. In the end, India were lucky to escape with a draw as South Africa ended eight runs short of a win.
Before their loss to India, South Africa had failed only once to block their way through a game. It was once again against Australia. Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn were doing their bit for the team having faced 105 and 44 balls respectively. Had it not been for an incredible final over from the injured Ryan Harris who removed Steyn and Morne Morkel in three balls, South Africa would have drawn the Test.
Finally, South Africa were back in ‘action’ against Sri Lanka in Colombo and everyone was chipping in to play out the 111 overs. Only one strike rate was above 30 and this time Philander was able to guide South Africa to a draw.
It takes some skill to save a Test match like this. Even with the continued rise of T20 cricket and the decline of Test match cricket, South Africa have still somehow maintained the art of a draw.