Sweet finale to a sweaty day

India move to No 2 in ICC Test rankings after crushing 337-run win at Kotla

Sweet finale to a sweaty day
For most of the day South Africa stonewalled, India attacked. AB De Villiers remained unflappable on a run-down surface. His presence had begun to weigh down on the hosts.
Much like Casabianca, he grimly watched his colleagues retreat after Hashim Amla and Faf du Plessis’ marathon efforts. De Villiers' vigil, spanning nearly six hours, had created the possibility of a draw. But India were equally resolute. They brilliantly fought back in the last session to end the South African resistance and conjure a 337-run victory on the final day of the fourth Test, completing a 3-0 series victory on Monday at the Feroz Shah Kotla stadium.

The Proteas, trailing by 408 runs the morning, were shot out for 143 in their second innings in 5.1 overs after tea, allowing India to catapult to No 2 in ICC Test rankings. South Africa would maintain their No 1 status despite their impeccable nine-year record on foreign shores falling away here. The visitors, however, would return with the solace of winning the T20 and ODI series.

It had been a revelatory series for the Indian spinners, especially Ravichandran Ashwin who took 5-61 in the second innings to become the highest wicket-taker of the year with 62 scalps in nine Tests.

A successful chase of the Indian target was impossible even to dream and the Proteas had chosen to block the looming defeat. The pitch was time-worn but not the spirits of Amla and De Villiers (43, 297b, 6x4, 345 minutes).

Beginning the day at 72/2, they continued to test the Indians’ patience with Virat Kohli trying eight bowlers since Saturday in a hunt for a breakthrough. India operated with two slips, a short leg, a silly point and a short mid-on but they couldn’t distract either of them.

Their 27-run partnership for the third wicket had withstood 253 balls and lasted 152 minutes but cracked against the new ball. Left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja, coming round the wicket, shattered the stolid defense of Amla, the ball spinning just that much to sneak past his defence and crack the top of the off-stump. It was a monumental effort by Amla, who had scored the slowest knock in Tests for 200 balls or over, after nearly five hours of stay. The way Jadeja sprinted, and India celebrated, it appeared they had won the Test!

De Villiers, though, was not to make it easy for them. Like in the first innings, he waged a determined war. The statistics were by now revolving around the number of balls consumed and hours spent on the crease. De Villiers was hell bent to set a new benchmark here also. It was both baffling and inspiring to witness such patience and application from a man who has the rare accomplishment of scoring the fastest 50, 100 and 150 in one-day international cricket.

Du Plessis, opening his account on the 53rd ball, stuck with him till the luncheon but Jadeja caught him plumb on return. JP Duminy didn’t last long either, Ashwin trapped him leg before as he went on his back-foot. De Villiers was not to be denied. He had an answer for whatever was bowled to him. And even though South Africa took tea at 136/5, a draw couldn’t be ruled out either.

India bounced back with fresh vigour in the final session to effect a swift peel-off of South Africa’s epic resistance. Umesh Yadav (3-9), getting the ball to reverse, broke the deadlock in the first over after tea. Dane Vilas dragged his off-cutter onto his stumps to accelerate India’s march to victory. Ashwin, in the next over, dealt the decisive blow. De Villiers moved across to negotiate the off-break from Ashwin, it hit his gloves before deflecting to Jadeja at leg slip. India was in tumultuous ecstasy. It was then only a matter of time before Ashwin, fittingly took the last wicket, by bowling Morne Morkel. As India basked in the glory of a series win at home, so did Test cricket, played in its traditional spirit and charm, during these five days at Kotla.

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