Virt Kohli has all the answers for his critics and he stoutly defended his team’s philosophy after India have won their third Test in South Africa in a dramatic manner.
The victory is all the more sweeter as India all of a sudden looked like losing on the fourth afternoon till what turned out to be the last hour of the match with the Proteas very much on course to pull it off at 124 for one chasing 241 runs in the fourth innings.
Then the sudden crash in the post-tea session and India were home in a canter by a good 63 runs in a low-scoring game.
Kohli is right, his team emerged triumphant from Bull Ring and on a pitch designed to help South Africa’s fast bowlers. His message is that they can win in any conditions and on doctored pitches overseas.
His script is cryptic — if you think of winning you lose some but the belief should be there. He always believed his team can do it and now it has done it, claiming the last nine South Africa wickets for 53 runs.
This is their first major victory overseas in almost four years, though he did not forget the last one at Lord’s under Mahendra Singh Dhoni, also achieved in conditions as hostile as they were in Johannesburg. Kohli would have won the first Test he captained in Adelaide three years ago, leading from the front with a century in each innings, but India fell short by 48 runs chasing 364 in the last innings.
What the Johannesburg victory has done is that India will remain the Number One side in the world, fetching them a million-dollar cash award and with it the mace presented to the top Test nation. It also underscores the fact that there is no such thing as a dead rubber. The win has made sure that South Africa will not overtake India in the ICC rankings before April 3, the cut-off date for year-end rankings.
Had South Africa won the series 3-0, they would have been in a position to try and get to the top after three years by beating Australia 2-0 in the series next month. In the changed scenario, South Africa will have to win at least one Test against Australia to retain second place in the Test table!
When Cheteshwar Punjara remarked after the first day’s play in the Johannesburg Test that India’s first innings score of 187 is equal to 300 on any other pitch, he was derisively ticked off, some thought he was talking through his hat to justify India’s poor batting after winning the toss.
Pujara was proved right as South Africa could barely muster a seven-run lead on the same pitch and by second afternoon India were batting again.
The pitch was dubious if not dangerous right from the start of the Test and its character remained more or less same, in a deteriorating state, as South Africa went in to bat on the third afternoon.
A short-pitched delivery from Jasprit Bumrah shook opener Dean Elgar as the ball menacingly rose to find the grill of the batsman’s helmet. Medical team rushed on to the field to take stock of a dazed his condition. That was enough for the two umpires, Messrs Aleem Dar and Ian Gould to go into a huddle to assess whether the pitch was the villain or it’s just one of those short-pitched deliveries that the fast bowlers sent down to rattle the batsmen routinely.
On the same treacherous pitch Murali Vijay, Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane, importantly Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohammad Shami, took lethal body blows and still showed courage to defy the all-pace attack. When they batted the pitch suddenly looked somewhat benign and so appeared during the Elgar-Hashim Amla century partnership on the fourth day. Elgar did not find anything amiss with the short stuff while remaining unbeaten with 86.
Shami returned with a fifer and his wickets were all skilfully obtained, attacking stumps, not because of any excessive help from the pitch. For that matter Bumrah was unplayable in claiming five wickets in the first innings, again generating accurate pace and forcing the batsmen to play.
Yet, all the stalwarts writing or commentating on the pitch were unanimous that it was not fit for a Test match and Michael Holding, the man who was part of the West Indies pace battery that prompted Bishan Bedi to declared India innings at Sabina Park, Jamaica, in 1976, termed it “sh..” and cricket should not be played on it. Even the South African greats thought the pitch was a bad advertisement for Test cricket.
Yet, Kohli was keen on going through with the Test, win or lose, but the South Africans would have been happier if they were spared the agony of standing up to an Indian pace attack that looked far better than theirs. South Africa’s West Indian coach Ottis Gibson reacted predictably, that his team would be happy to play, as long as the umpires decided the surface wasn’t dangerous.
Whether the pitch was dangerous or not, Kohli and his boys were courageous. Full marks to them for battling it out.