Test Cricket is not about those yawning times when you push yourself back to the armchair and doze off to sleep, but only to be woken up by a fall of wicket. Neither is it about demolishing victories or embarrassing losses. It is a test of mental strength, character, temperament, toiling hours of concentration and extreme craftsmanship of skill. That is why it is called as test cricket. South Africa did not lose nor did they win, but did more than just that: they battled for survival.
South Africa underwent a disastrous start on the first day. They were demoralized by Warner’s onslaught, Clarke’s rampage and Hussey’s brilliance. It was vintage Australia. All on day one of a crucial test match. More to follow was a 162 run lead for the Aussies as the Proteas were bundled over and out. They had not seen the worse until they were nearly half their side down (an old injured hamstring, how long can that last we all thought) chasing 430 with 5 more sessions to follow. Now after all this if you are going to criticize saying they never looked to attack and push for a win, you gotta be kidding me!
Winning a test match is more than hitting centuries and taking wickets. It is the psychological edge of winning more sessions than the opposition. Australia and South Africa shared day 1 and day 2 honors respectively. Day 3 was when the Aussies triggered the engine to spice up some life into the test match as they looted the Proteas in the first two sessions. South Africa obliged to keep up the tempo as they kept the match in the balance in the last session.
In came day 4 all set for an epic drama. Aussies plundered runs and thereby setting a challenging target of 430. Australian rampage juggernauted for two and a half sessions, but pivotal signs of stonewall defense from Faf duPlessis and Ab deVilliers was on cards. Australian men were composed and knew their patience would be rewarding, so they waited long. But soon it turned to be a long delay and now the Porteas dictated terms with ball after ball, minute after minute, maiden after maiden. They were ordering Aussies to wait and expected them to keep waiting. At the stroke of tea, it was even-steven because both the teams had won equal amounts of sessions.
Final session proved to be the supreme battle between bat and ball. It was an epic hard fought battle on exhausted grounds. Two protagonists- Siddle and duPlessis played their hearts out for either sides. It was a war and so sweat and hunger was nothing new. Five days of play came down to five minutes. 14 sessions of play could not differentiate between the two sides and when the final session was named the decider, it aptly declared a draw implying that neither did Australia win nor did South Africa lose. We all know they did something more than that and it was just extraordinary.
South Africa have let their ranking speak for themselves. You don't always have to keep winning or dominating to retain the hot seat. The real test lies in the way you battle for your skin to defend what you have earned so that you let others know that you deserve it. It was clearly evident as Firdose Moonda describes duPlessis century “Du Plessis raised the bat demurely, acknowledged the dressing room and gave Jacques Kallis a bear hug. There was no leaping or shouting, just quiet recognition”. It was not just the raising of the bat, but a kind of statement telling to his team mates back in the dressing room "I am still here and will keep fighting till the end".
duPlessis is a batsman of tremendous potential. He might have very well announced his coming to test cricket with a loudspeaker. From his batting for the CSK, it was clearly evident that his batting was as fluent as fluid the brushwork of an artist will ever be. But here he had a mountain to climb. Debut or not, he played 82 deliveries for his last 20 runs to his century. He prolonged 20 balls to move from 98 to 100 and during the interim he fell over a Yorker, he edged the ball to the slip cordon, shuffled his pads to get Aussies roaring. Clearly, he had a far vision of drawing his team out of the deep well than worrying about personal milestones and that is why he survived not out for 464 minutes.
People would have jumped to conclusions after seeing that target 430 and saying deja vu as all the actions from the historic innings chase by South Africa at WACA in 2008 might be flashing over the heads, but Clarke had different ideas. He may well have thought that he had scripted a win for his country, but only to be denied and undergoing a thrilling challenge. That is why cricket is so beautiful because of how unpredictable it can be at certain times.